House GOP failing to divide farm bill
By Larry Dreiling
House Republican leaders, anxious to pass some kind of agricultural legislation, attempted July 9 to divide the farm bill into two pieces of legislation, one bill including strictly farm provisions with one bill strictly nutrition provisions.
The plan ran aground when conservatives—who two weeks earlier voted against a united farm bill—again decided as of press time not to go for that sort of legislation, either.
It had been known that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia had been keen on separating provisions related to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, from farm provisions in an effort to find 218 Republican votes seen as needed for a bill’s passage.
A House GOP leadership aide told the influential newspaper The Hill July 8 that Republican leaders had decided to drop food stamps and proceed with a farm-only portion of the bill. The story went that the bill was ready to proceed to the House Rules Committee, which would vote in favor of sending the bill to the House floor. Included as a carrot to conservatives in the farm-only bill would be a repeal of the 1949 permanent law that requires the passage or extension of a farm bill.
The nutrition portion of the bill, the aide said, would be dealt with later. But GOP leaders had yet to announce an official way forward as they struggle to line up the votes.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, emerging from a meeting of the House Republican Conference earlier in the day, said he would support splitting the measure.
“I’m willing to do what it takes to get a farm bill done,” Lucas said in Politico, backtracking from his earlier comments against splitting the bill. “If that means doing it unconventionally, maybe we’ve got to give it a try.”
Asked whether it was fair to say he supports splitting the farm bill, the Oklahoma Republican replied: “It’s fair to say that Chairman Lucas is at a point where he has got to look outside the box, and splitting the farm bill is certainly outside the traditional box.”
Lucas told Politico, “It’s contrary to the conventional wisdom since at least 1965 so that’s outside the box… We’re at a point in time where we have to think outside the box. I have to pass a farm bill. Whatever combination of events gets us ultimately to that farm bill is worth trying.
“This is not just a committee bill anymore. It has become a process involving the whole House,” Lucas added. “I’m trying, I’m trying.”
While the goal of splitting the bill is to make it easier for conservatives to back the package without having to vote for food stamp funding, the end result is also to throw away what leverage the House has with the farm bill to demand some reforms in food stamps from the Senate.
“We could end up with a farm safety-net rural development bill only,” said Lucas’s deputy chair, Rep. Mike Conaway, R-TX. “Why would the Senate force any reforms to the nutrition program?”
As Politico reported: “This is progress?” a reporter asked. “No,” Conaway said.
Only 24 Democrats voted for the farm bill after Republicans adopted a number of amendments considered poison pills to the other side. The amendment that stuck in the craw of most Democrats was one from Rep. Steve Southerland, R-FL, backed by Cantor, which authorized state pilot programs to create work requirements for able-bodied adult recipients of food stamps.
Rep. Collin Peterson, the Ranking Minority Member of the House Agriculture Committee, said nobody consulted him about the move.
“We’re heading into uncharted water here,” said Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat. “Nobody has talked to me at all except some Republicans who do not like what their leadership [is doing]. They do not want this split thing either.”
Peterson told Politico he thought the best way forward for farm bill passage was not to proceed with a partisan bill but to take away the Southerland amendment and give the farm bill another vote.
“I want them to take the Southerland amendment out and put the bill back on the floor,” Peterson said. “That’s what I told them…before they had the vote, I told them that.
“They’re the ones that screwed this up, not me,” Peterson said. “I had the votes until they put those amendments up.”
Republican aides say if they can’t find the votes for a split bill, the conference has two options: Do nothing or try to hash out the differences with Democrats.
More than 500 agricultural businesses, commodity groups and general farm organizations sent their support of that final option in a letter July 2 to Speaker of the House John Boehner, seeking an intact farm bill. Among the groups was the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union, Dairy Farmers of America and the National Pork Producers Council.
Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117, or by email at email@example.com.