Acrimony was the watchword on Capitol Hill on Thursday as a particularly rancorous House passed a farm bill stripped of food stamp spending and a key senator set the stage for a showdown over the use of filibusters to block the president's executive nominees. And while bipartisan Senate negotiators forged a tentative agreement on student loans, they apparently went back to the drawing board when the high cost of the plan became apparent. Here is a closer look at the day's developments in Washington.
Farm bill: Republicans muscled a pared-back agriculture bill through the House on Thursday, stripping out the food stamp program to satisfy recalcitrant conservatives but losing what little Democratic support the bill had when it failed last month. It was the first time food stamps have not been a part of the farm bill since 1973.
The 216-208 vote saved House GOP leaders from an embarrassing reprisal of the defeat of a broader farm bill in June, but the future of agriculture policy is uncertain. The food stamp program was 80 percent of the original bill's cost, and it's still the centerpiece of the Senate's bipartisan farm bill.
Even in a chamber used to acrimony, the debate was particularly brutal. Democrats charged Republicans with callousness and cruelty. Republicans shouted protests and tried to silence the most strident Democrats.
The House vote effectively ended the long political marriage between urban interests concerned about nutrition and rural areas that depend on farm subsidies. Democrats denounced the bill as an effort to make draconian cuts in the food stamp program.
New York Times
Student loans: An emerging deal to lower interest rates on student loans hit a major obstacle Thursday after lawmakers were told it carried a $22 billion price tag over the next decade.
The proposal was designed to offer Democrats the promise that interest rates would not reach 10 percent and to give Republicans a link between borrowing terms and the financial markets that they sought. But at that cost, the bipartisan coalition behind it decided to push pause and return to negotiations to bring the cost down.
The estimate was described by a congressional aide involved in the negotiations, the Associated Press reported.
The unexpected cost estimate was unlikely to end talks among lawmakers about how they might reduce rates on subsidized Stafford loans, which doubled to 6.8 percent last week in the wake of congressional inaction.
If fresh negotiations prove fruitless, millions of students returning to campus next month will find borrowing terms twice as high as when school let out.
Filibuster: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid moved closer Thursday to dramatically altering Senate rules to block the chamber's GOP minority from filibustering President Barack Obama's executive nominees.
Reid, D-Nev., accused Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., of breaking an agreement the two had forged to ease complaints about Republican obstruction of nominees.
He upped the ante by moving for votes on several nominees, including Obama's picks to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Labor as well as appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.
Reid's actions laid the groundwork for him to invoke the so-called "nuclear option," which, by Senate vote, essentially would end filibusters by preventing Republicans from requiring a 60-vote super-majority for confirmation of Cabinet-level and executive branch nominees. Instead, the Senate would confirm nominees by a simple majority vote.
A bipartisan group of senators will meet Monday in hopes of finding a compromise.