House Republican leaders are building support for the farm bill amid signs that hard-line conservatives are warming to the legislation ahead of possible floor action the week of May 14.
Democrats are expected to be united in opposition to the bill because of its food stamp reforms, so Republicans cannot afford to lose many votes among their own ranks.
The message to GOP conservatives in a private GOP conference Wednesday was that if they like the food stamp reforms that are in the bill they need to commit to the bill on final passage in the House, lawmakers said. House GOP members will hold a special listening session on the legislation Friday. The bill is expected to be on the floor after next week’s House recess.
In interviews Wednesday, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and the group’s former chairman, Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, both signaled openness to supporting the bill.
The bill includes provisions designed to appeal to conservatives that would expand work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and tighten income eligibility rules.
Conservatives face a choice of supporting the House Agriculrure Committee’s bill with its SNAP reforms or else extending current law, said Meadows. The 2014 farm bill expires Sept. 30.
Members of the Freedom Caucus, which is believed to number about 30, discussed the bill at a private meeting Tuesday night.
“We didn’t take any official position (on the bill), but I can tell you that the conversations have actually put people in a place where they are willing to consider it,” Meadows said. “Typical hard-nose (members) are not necessarily hard nose during this debate.”
During the GOP conference meeting Wednesday, former House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., told Agri-Pulse that he appealed to colleagues who like the bill’s “idealistic reforms” to support the legislation.
Jordan, for his part, wanted the House to use the budget reconciliation process to enact reforms to SNAP and other welfare reforms. Budget reconciliation bills only need a simple majority to pass the Senate. The farm bill will need to get 60 votes, and the leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee have said they will not consider the House measure’s SNAP reforms.
But Jordan still said he was considering voting for the House bill. ”I’m all for the welfare aspect of it, … There are some things that I’d like to change, but it’s off to a good start,” he said.
A veteran Republican close to the GOP leadership, Tom Cole of Oklahoma, said he expected the bill to pass. "Hopefully our members who have concerns about the cost of the bill will be wiling to support it, given the reforms that are in it," he said.
Democrats did not propose any amendments to the bill during the committee markup April 18, and the House Agriculture Committee’s ranking member, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, is recommending against offering any on the floor either.
“This is not fixable. … We shouldn’t even be doing this, so my recommendation is going to be no amendments on the floor,” Peterson told members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting on Wednesday.
Peterson said he also wants to discourage amendments in order to protect important provisions such as crop insurance and the sugar program from changes proposed by opponents. "The only thing that can happen is trouble ... and it's not going to help pass the bill," Peterson said.
If the Democratic leadership follows his advice, it would undermine Wisconsin Democrat Ron Kind's longstanding effort to cut crop insurance. He has been working on a series of possible floor amendments.
But Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina plans an amendment to roll back the sugar program, and she told Agri-Pulse on Wednesday that she is optimistic about getting the measure adopted. Foxx is a member of the Rules Committee, which determines what amendments get considered on the floor.
Peterson called the SNAP reforms a “fool’s errand” since they would be unacceptable to Senate negotiators.
But House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, told the broadcasters that he will defend the SNAP provisions in negotiations with the Senate. He said he would “work as hard as I can to preserve as much of the bill as I’ve got . … .We’ll work with our Senate colleagues to see what we can get passed.”
Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he hopes to have a draft bill ready for his committee to act on in May but has not scheduled any action.
Spencer Chase contributed to this report.
(Updated April 26 wtih floor debate expected week of May 14, according to Conaway.)