On Friday Congressman Keith Rothfus, a conservative Republican from Sewickley, joined Democrats in voting down a farm bill that would have imposed new limits on food benefits.
Opponents of the bill feared its stricter eligibility requirements could deprive 70,000 Pennsylvania households of aid. But while they rarely find common ground with the conservative lawmaker, they welcomed his vote today.
Every Democrat, including local representatives Conor Lamb and Mike Doyle, joined their party in voting no. But Rothfus was one of 30 Republicans to reject the measure, which failed by a vote of 198-213. Congressman Mike Kelly, a Republican who represents areas north of Allegheny County, voted in favor of the bill.
"Keith Rotfhus voted against this bill for his own reasons about farm subsidies and stuff, and we are very happy with his decision on that also," said Ann Sanders, a public policy advocate with Pittsburgh-based anti-poverty group Just Harvest.
Sanders said she worried about more stringent work requirements contained in the measure, coupled with what she considered inadequate job training and other programs. She also said the bill would eliminate the ability of states like Pennslyvania to offer more generous benefits.
"A lot of working families are struggling paycheck to paycheck," she said. While the current rules aren't ideal, she said, "at least some of them were able to get help. This [bill] would have made it worse."
In a statement, Rothfus hailed some of the language Sanders decried, calling the stricter requirements "necessary reforms to agriculture and nutrition programs. But he said he opposed continued subsidies for agribusiness contained in the bill.
Citing a national debt of over $20 trillion, Rothfus said, "Congress needs to be very careful in how it spends hard-earned taxpayer dollars."
The defeat of the farm bill was seen as a setback for Republican leaders, but not a surprise. Some moderate Republicans had also voiced concern about the bill, and a coalition of conservative Republicans demanded a vote on stricter immigration policies before they would support a farm measure.
Sanders said the battle over work requirements will likely continue, at both the state and federal level, over food aid and Medicaid benefits. But she said she's heartened by the win.
It marked Just Harvest's first interaction with Lamb, who was just elected to Congress in March and who will face Rothfus in a newly drawn Congressional district this November.
"They were very concerned about working people losing benefits," Sanders said of Lamb's office.
The measure, or one similar to it, could come up again as early as next week.