House leaders gamble on revamped farm bill, minus nutrition cuts

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, July 11, 2013 - The House is expected to vote today on a revamped farm bill (H.R. 2642) that would exclude the nutrition title and repeal a major stronghold for agricultural interests, the 1949 and 1938 permanent law. First votes are expected on the rule for the 608-page bill at 10:30 a.m.

Although House leaders expressed confidence that they have sufficient votes for passage, the revamped legislation is opposed by the nation's two largest farm organizations - the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union - and some lawmakers remained uncommitted last night.  The White House quickly issued a veto threat.

Some conservative leaders are also wary because the revised bill would not include any cuts to the food stamp program and- facing stiff Senate opposition- they fear that the farm bill will end up being extended once again at the end of the year, absent any reforms. However, on June 24, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. said the U.S. Senate would not pass another short-term farm bill extension.

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“Basically, this gets the bill off (Leader Eric) Cantor's plate and allows the GOP to blame the Senate for the lack of final action,” noted one farm bill observer.

The action comes after the House Rules Committee, late last night, approved a closed rule for the legislation on a straight party line vote, providing one hour of debate on the House floor Tuesday morning.

House leadership worked throughout Wednesday to round up votes and tried to convince farm groups that splitting the bill was the best and last hope to get a farm bill passed without additional reforms to crop insurance, such as those proposed by Rep. Ron Kind, D- Wisc..

Mike Sommers, Speaker John Boehner's chief-of-staff, told farm organizations that, if this effort didn't gain approval, there would not be any further attempts to pass a farm bill this year

Others argued for an alternative that could gain bipartisan support. The House Agriculture Committee's Ranking Member, Collin Peterson, D-Minn., told farm leaders he had a written list of 45 Democrats who would vote for the entire bill - complete with $20.5 billion in food stamp cuts - if the bill was brought back on the floor without Rep. Steve Southerland's amendment that allowed states to implement work requirements for food stamp recipients.

Southerland's amendment has been widely blamed for drawing opposition to final passage of the bill - especially after Cantor took the unusual step of speaking in favor of the amendment shortly before votes on final farm bill passage last month.

During the Rules Committee meeting, Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said the bill contains the same language and amendments as the previously failed farm bill, just minus the nutrition title and the permanent law provisions which prompted concerns about extremely high milk prices under the so-called “dairy cliff.”

Committee ranking member Louis Slaughter, D-N.Y., said, “This is no way to do this bill.” Despite assurances from House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., that they would revisit the nutrition title as separate legislation, Slaughter said she wished that “I could trust you.”

“This is not something the Senate will take up,” Slaughter said. “You're really leaving out a big population that has nobody but us…We cannot take your word for it.” Ranking member Peterson did not appear before the Rules Committee last night.

Lucas stressed that he had to take this approach to get the votes to move a bill to conference and hopes to resolve the nutrition title issue in an eventual conference.

“It's been a roller-coaster since that vote,” Lucas said in reference to the recent failure on the House floor.

“I give you my word we will make a good faith effort to draft a nutrition title,” Lucas said. “We need to pass a vehicle to get to the Senate.”

House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., also expressed concerns about splitting the farm bill and the rushed process.

 “Once again, House Republicans are in disarray.  Violating their own ‘three-day' rule of posting legislation for all to read, they have announced a vote tomorrow on a controversial, 600-page Farm Bill that nobody has had a chance to read and that omits nutrition assistance funding for low-income families under the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), Hoyer said in a statement.

“Republicans know this is a bill to nowhere - even if they succeed in passing it through the House, the Senate will not consider a Farm Bill without nutrition assistance.  This dead-on-arrival messaging bill only seeks to accomplish one objective: to make it appear that Republicans are moving forward with important legislation even while they continue to struggle at governing. 

Still, some lawmakers seemed convinced that splitting the bill was the best and only path forward.

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, told Agri-Pulse he planned to vote ‘yea'.

“I'm not going to contribute to asking Chairman Lucas walk the plank again. He needs a farm bill and so do our producers." 

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This article was updated at 6:33 am.

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