Will GOP plan to cut food stamps save the farm bill ... or kill it?
After the farm bill's stunning defeat last month, House GOP leaders are feeling out whether they can strip out a massive food stamp program and win back enough conservative votes to pass the aid to farmers.
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“Unfortunately, this is nothing more than a naked attempt to get to a conference committee with the Senate," he added. "The end result of such a conference would be a perpetuation of subsidies and government intervention that will continue to harm consumers and taxpayers alike.”Skip to next paragraph
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Without robust support from fiscal hawks in the GOP, which still seems unlikely, agriculture advocates worry that pursuing a GOP-only bill risks a second failed vote on the farm bill.
For most legislation, being brought back to the floor after losing once is a moonshot. But twice?
“You can come back from the dead once, but I don’t think you can do twice,” says Representative Peterson, who worked hand-in-glove with Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R) of Oklahoma each of the last two years to try to get a bipartisan farm bill, including food stamps, to the floor. “We can’t bring this bill up again unless it will actually pass.”
In a letter to Speaker Boehner last week, more than 500 agricultural groups agreed with Peterson.
Whether because it doesn’t have votes in the House or because a farm-policy only strategy risks a deadlock with the Senate, the end result would be the same: no farm bill.
“We believe that splitting the nutrition title from the rest of the bill could result in neither farm nor nutrition programs passing, and urge you to move a unified farm bill forward,” the groups said, in the July 2 letter.
In the long run, too, some believe that splitting the farm and food programs will set the stage for more gridlock on farm issues.
Because every senator represents not only agricultural interests but the poor in need of food aid, the bond between the two programs will almost certainly remain strong in the upper chamber, says Dan Glickman, a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center and former Agriculture secretary under President Clinton. He also previously served six-terms in the US House.
But in the House, where Mr. Glickman estimates only 60-some districts are predominantly agricultural, splitting the bill opens it up to criticism from all parts of the political spectrum in a way that could make it almost impossible to pass in the future.
‘It’s a very bad idea because I think split farm and food stamp [bills] ultimately jeopardizes both,” says Glickman. The farm program, particularly, represents “too narrow of a demographic to sustain itself in the House.”
Peterson suggests another way forward: Change or kill off some previous amendments, including one championed by House majority leader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia that allowed states to require food-stamp recipients to work, and put last month's farm bill right back on the floor.
Peterson says perhaps a dozen Democrats previously offended by the amendments could be brought back into the fold. A host of wayward GOPers, including committee chairman usually loyal to Boehner (who himself took the unusual step of voting for the bill), could be brought back to the table and, voila, comprehensive farm bill en route to a conference committee.
Republicans could be looking at tweaking the bill, to get to the 218 votes needed to pass the measure, says Rep. Steve King (R) of Iowa.
Instead, he said, the House is attempting to hit a legislative bank shot after their first, much simpler effort, came up short.
“Right now,” says Representative King, “there’s a fixation on splitting the bill.”
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