By Seymour Klierly
Agriculture took an unexpected blow from Congress when the House of Representatives voted down the 2013 farm bill. The landmark legislation for farm and food policies has seen bumpy roads before including presidential vetoes, but this was the first time in recent memory that the farm bill died on the House floor. This fiasco immediately led to cheers from anti-agriculture groups and jeers from farmer organizations with each side wondering what will come next.
Conservatives and their associated interest groups object to any spending on farm subsidies and demand food stamps be block granted to individual states. They considered the farm bill vote a major win and have already laid the ground work for further mischief by imagining untenable schemes.
Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-ID, told Tea Party activists from Americans for Prosperity, “I am finding a lot of interest for separation of the bill.” Stutzman offered an amendment that would have split the farm bill into a food stamp bill and a farm policy bill; however, it was not allowed for a vote. After gaining some traction Stutzman remarked, “I never thought we’d have this opportunity we have today.”
Even if the two pieces were split does not make the road forward any easier and may actually make conferencing a bill even harder. “Splitting up the farm bill is a good first step, but just splitting a bad bill into two pieces doesn’t suddenly make either piece better,” said Barney Keller, a spokesman for the Club for Growth. Without more substantial changes, the same groups that helped bring down the farm bill would continue to push against the newly split legislation. “The Club for Growth would certainly Key Vote against both the farm subsidies and food stamp program if they were considered separately,” Keller continued.
Another option to pass the farm bill would be to bring up the Agriculture Committee passed version without the opportunity for amendments. This backup plan would keep a bipartisan vote tally, but many Republicans could pass again on their support. Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-MN, said, “Last-minute additions to the bill involving the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides food stamps to needy citizens, were among biggest concerns to those who voted against the bill.” Without these amendments, he believed that there was enough Democrat support win passage of the bill.
Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, and the rest of the Republican leadership team have a tight rope to dance across as the caucus will want to move a conservative bill. That leaves pressure to double down on cuts to food stamps and pass a bill with fewer Democrats, but enough Republicans to pass the bill. Charles Lane in a column for The Washington Post noted, “Fortunately, there is a solution. Abolish food stamps, on one condition: Congress would have to distribute the SNAP budget among other programs for the poor, for which many SNAP recipients also qualify.” For some conservatives that sounds like a dream; for others the possibility is a political nightmare.
Editor’s note: Seymour Klierly writes Washington Whispers for the Journal from inside the Beltway.