Conservative groups target farm bill

Conservative groups have made it official — they hate the Senate farm bill and will push Tea Party fiscal hawks in Congress to defeat it.

Heritage Action and Club for Growth on Tuesday told The Hill they will “key vote” the Senate farm bill that is coming up for passage in early June, punishing members on their annual scorecards for voting in favor of the bill.

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“We’re against it. We haven’t key voted it yet, but we will eventually. I suspect that fiscally conservative resistance will be high, probably even higher than the highway bill,” said Club for Growth vice president Andrew Roth.

Heritage Action said it will key vote the Senate farm bill out of opposition to the new spending in the legislation on crop insurance, meant to cover farmers’ small losses. The group also believes the bill does not cut enough from food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  

“Conservatives should not be distracted by the end of direct payments in the Senate farm bill. Not only does the bill funnel millions to specialty crops while creating a new and potentially costly subsidy in shallow loss insurance, it also fails to make necessary structural reforms to the SNAP program,” Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham said in an emailed statement.

Club for Growth and Heritage Action have played central roles in mobilizing conservatives in recent months, exerting particular influence with the large Tea Party caucus. 

The groups were instrumental this spring in killing House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) five-year highway bill — the American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act — after arguing it spent too much. 

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said last week she has the 60 votes she needs to get a farm bill approved, but commodity groups are worried farm subsidies could be curtailed through conservative amendments.

In the House, conservative group opposition could scuttle plans to bring a farm bill to the floor before the current farm law expires Sept. 30. A farm bill was not on the summer agenda memo released last Friday by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

The Senate farm bill reduces the deficit compared to current law by $23.6 billion, but a House GOP aide noted that the Republican Study Committee got $50 billion in savings, not including its block granting of the food stamp program.

The House Agriculture Committee’s eventual bill is likely to have even more spending on farm subsidies than the Senate bill.

Committee leaders are sympathetic to demands by Southern farmers growing peanuts and rice to include a more generous countercyclical payment plan in the House bill than that found in the Senate. This subsidy would pay farmers if crop prices dip below set target prices.

“As for countercyclical payments, I expect that conservatives will generally not be interested in lowering the bar for those subsidies,” the House aide said.