HARI SREENIVASAN: The sell-off that started on Wall Street yesterday turned into a rout today. It was again fueled in part by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s comments that the Fed might start paring back stimulus efforts. The Dow Jones industrial average plunged nearly 354 points to close at 14,758. It’s down 560 points in two days. The Nasdaq fell 78 points to close at 3,364.
The U.S. House today rejected a five-year, half-trillion-dollar farm bill. The bill would have cut food stamps by $2 billion dollars a year, but that was too much for many Democrats and not enough for a number of Republicans. Democrats also objected to letting states set new work mandates for food stamp recipients. When it was over, leaders on both sides blamed the other.
REP. STENY HOYER, D-Md.: What happened today is, you turned a bipartisan bill necessary for our farmers, necessary for our consumers, necessary for the people of America that many of us would have supported, and you turned it into a partisan bill.
REP. ERIC CANTOR, R-Va.: It really is a disappointing day. I think that the minority has been a disappointing player today, Mr. Speaker, on the part of the people. But we remain ready to work with the gentleman. I’m hopeful that, tomorrow, perhaps next week will be a better week.
HARI SREENIVASAN: We get more now on just what happened to the farm bill from Todd Zwillich, who covers Congress for “The Takeaway” from Public Radio International and WNYC.
So, Todd, this was supposed to be bipartisan. There were supposed to be enough votes. What happened?
TODD ZWILLICH, WNYC Radio: Well, Hari, this bill really imploded on the floor.
What happened was, Republicans, who needed 218 votes to pass this thing, couldn’t get it. They were relying on Democrats for up to 40 votes. When the bill came to the floor, they onto got 21 Democratic votes, nowhere near what they needed. Democrats are really upset over cuts to food stamps, other nutritional programs.
There had been a deal to supply these 40 Democratic votes for this bill that even John Boehner was signed on for, even though he never supports farm bills. He supported this one. But Democrats said that Republicans kept piling on other amendments that they didn’t like, amendments that required more work requirements to get food stamps, in some cases drug testing to get food stamps.
And, in the end, too many Democrats bolted. They wouldn’t support it, and the bill imploded.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what happens next? Do we go back to rules from 1949, when the farm bill was permanent, or is this going to come back up again in another week?
TODD ZWILLICH: Probably not in another week. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen. The existing farm bill authorization lasts until Sept. 30. The food stamp program lasts beyond that. It’s on a different authorization. So, luckily, nobody who is on food stamps is going to get cut off on Sept. 30 if they can’t reach a deal.
They have to go back to the drawing board here. They could still have a conference even if the House doesn’t pass a bill. They have done that before, Hari, like on the highway bill. The House never really got much passed, but they still managed to get a conference because they really wanted a deal. That could happen here, but the way forward just is not that clear right now.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Todd Zwillich on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.
TODD ZWILLICH: Sure thing.
HARI SREENIVASAN: In Afghanistan today, President Hamid Karzai changed his mind again and said he is willing to join peace talks with the Taliban after all. That’s provided the Taliban flag and nameplate are removed from the group’s office in Doha, Qatar.
Meanwhile, the Taliban offered to release U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who has — who was captured four years ago. In exchange, the U.S. would have to free five senior Taliban operatives now held at Guantanamo Bay.
The people of Singapore struggled today to draw a clear breath in the worst air pollution ever recorded there. A thick, smoky haze has drifted over from Sumatra in Indonesia, where farmers illegally burn land to clear it for planting. In recent days, the smog enveloped Singapore’s skyline. It’s an annual problem, and the city-state’s prime minister warned there’s no way to tell how long it will last.
PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG, Singapore: We can’t tell how this problem is going to develop, because it depends on the burning. It depends on the weather. It depends on the wind.
It can easily last for several weeks and quite possibly it could last longer until the dry season ends in Sumatra, which may be September or October.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The prime minister urged people to stay indoors as much as possible. But Indonesia criticized the public statements, saying they should have been conveyed through diplomatic channels. A cabinet minister there said — quote — “Singapore shouldn’t act like children, making all that noise.”
Those are some of the day’s major stories — now back to Jeff.