Farm bill backers: We have the votes

Lawmakers supportive of a stalled House farm bill say they have the votes to pass the measure.

Those assertions, made Friday by Republicans and Democrats, directly contradict recent claims by GOP leaders. Before recessing the House on Friday, Republican leaders said the reason why they weren’t moving the five-year bill was because it lacked the votes.

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A group of GOP and Democratic lawmakers from agriculture districts launched an eleventh-hour whip count earlier this week aimed at proving Republican leaders wrong. They polled their House colleagues with a simple question: Would you vote for the farm bill that passed the Agriculture Committee?

The panel approved its measure, 35-11, in July.

Many legislators, including House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) were livid that leaders had not conducted an official whip effort on the five-year farm bill.

“Nobody has ever whipped the bill. [GOP leaders] keep saying that there's not enough votes so I want to know where we're at,” Peterson said in an interview with The Hill Friday morning.

The rogue bipartisan vote-counting operation continued throughout the nearly two-hour vote series on Friday, the best time for whipping to occur as the entire body is gathered in the chamber.

As lawmakers left the Capitol on Friday, Arkansas freshman GOP Rep. Rick Crawford said there are at least 218 votes in favor of sending the House-committee approved bill to conference with the Senate. The Senate approved their version of the authorization bill in June.

“I feel like [Republicans] have anywhere from 125 to 150 on our side; and anywhere from 85 to 115 on the [Democratic] side," Crawford told The Hill.

One GOP lawmaker, who requested anonymity to speak freely on the matter, said that Peterson counted at least 100 Democrats who would support the legislation.

“[GOP leadership] thought they had 20 [votes],” the member said. “[They] were also thinking that [House Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.] and [House Minority Whip Steny] Hoyer [D-Md.] were whipping against it. They weren't whipping against it."

The bill has divided each party. Liberals take issue with the measure’s cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, formerly called "food stamps," while conservative lawmakers say that the cuts are not deep enough. Right-leaning groups, including the Club for Growth, have ripped the bill for its $900-billion price tag.

GOP leadership’s inaction on floor consideration of the measure has surprised some lawmakers who have cited House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) promise to "let the House work its will.”

But others told The Hill that GOP leaders did try to sound out members and came away with the feedback that it would be a bad political vote for many Republicans. Indeed, GOP lawmakers would attract criticism either way they vote on the bill. If they voted yes, the Club for Growth would call them out. If they voted no, farm groups would express their dissatisfaction.

Not passing a bill, however, could have damaging repercussions for farm-state lawmakers in close elections. It could also jeopardize the GOP’s chances of winning control of the Senate.

The farm bill is expected to be a top issue in the Senate contests in North Dakota and Montana where Rep. Rick Berg (R-N.D.) and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) are vying to become members of the upper chamber.

Boehner on Friday announced that the House would consider the farm bill following the November elections. That has pleased some bill backers, who were concerned that the legislation would be revamped by leaders in the lame-duck session.

"When we get back after the election we will consult with our members and develop a pathway forward, it's too early to determine right now, what kind of mood members might be in and what kind of opinions they are going to have,” Boehner said.

While it remains to be seen if the House will change aspects of the Agriculture Committee’s bill, lawmakers supportive of the measure say their whip count will help their argument that no alterations are necessary.