Farm bill on track for House passage

The House is set to approve a new five-year farm bill in a bipartisan vote on Wednesday despite some opposition from liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.

House GOP leaders are rushing to the floor with the measure, which would cost $956 billion over 10 years, less than 72 hours after its release.

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That follows a strategy Republican leaders used to win votes on a two-year budget deal in December and a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending measure earlier this month.

Leaders in both parties, including Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) are backing the bill. Even aides to members opposed to the bill predicted the legislation is on track for passage.

Lobbyists from a broad swath of agriculture groups have thrown their muscle behind the bill, including the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union.

Both Northern commodity groups like the National Corn Growers Association and Southern groups like the USA Rice Federation also back the bill.

After a dairy subsidy compromise was struck, the National Milk Producers Federation and dairy users represented by the International Dairy Foods Association are behind the bill.

Environmental groups are pleased, as are international food assistance groups. 

The vote was “looking good” after three years of failed efforts, one prominent agriculture lobbyist said Tuesday. 

In June, the House rejected an earlier version of the farm bill in a 195-234 vote. It included deeper cuts to food stamp programs.

That version garnered only 24 Democratic “yes” votes. Sixty-two Republicans also opposed it.

GOP leaders responded by splitting the farm and food stamp chapters of the bill and passing them separately, doubling the food stamp cuts to win more conservative votes. 

A stronger Democratic vote than in June is expected for the compromise bill; Hoyer said Democrats aren’t even whipping the measure.

“It’s a much, much better bill than passed the House, and I think it’ll pass,” Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol. “We don’t think that it needs to be whipped; we think there will be a significant number of Democrats [voting yes].”

On the left, some liberals are expected to vote “no” because of the bill’s $8 billion cut to food stamp programs, with Reps. James McGovern (D-Mass.) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) leading the charge.

Anti-hunger groups like Feeding America argue the food stamp cuts will hurt families in colder areas like the Northeast because the bill closes an avenue to food stamp eligibility based on home heating assistance. 

But some liberals, including Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), say they will support the measure. 

And leading liberal scholar Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is backing the compromise as avoiding the deeper cuts favored by the House.

On the right, the Club for Growth and Heritage Action have come out against the bill and will key-vote the measure on their political scorecards. That will lead a contingent of conservatives to vote against the bill, arguing that its $16.6 billion in deficit reduction is insufficient. 

“The farm bill conference report is just more business as usual and reverses the victory for common sense that taxpayers won last year,” Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) said.

But the two conservative groups also lobbied against the budget deal and omnibus measure, and their losing streak is likely to extend to three with the farm bill vote.

Besides the $8 billion in food stamp cuts, the measure would reduce farm subsidies by $14.3 billion over 10 years.

Past House-passed budgets by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have called for $31 billion in farm subsidy savings and $134 billion in cuts to food stamps over 10 years. The House farm bill had $39 billion in cuts to food stamps and $51 billion in total deficit cuts.

“Given the Congressional Budget Office’s history of underestimating the cost of prior farm bills, we take it as given that much, if not all, of the $23 billion in projected savings in this bill will never materialize,” said Andrew Moylan of the conservative group R Street on Tuesday. The Agriculture Committees claims $23 billion in savings rather than $16.6 billion by counting sequestration cuts already scheduled.

But GOP defections are likely to be limited, with rural conservatives like Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) saying they will back the measure.

“Sometimes you have got to take what you can get. If you don’t pass this bill, you are going to end up with an extension that will actually end up spending more money,” he said, leaving a meeting of the conservative Republican Study Committee. 

Another issue for the bill is the opposition of meat processors and groups representing beef, pork and chicken producers. Those groups are angry over their failure to win provisions blocking country-of-origin labeling and anti-competitive practice regulations on packers. Both regulations are supported by small-sized ranchers and their lobbyists. 

Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who led the fight against the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, said he will support the farm bill despite losing that fight. 

“I am committed to trying to get this addressed in other ways,” he said. 

He told The Hill he is not seeing a groundswell of opposition from members over the issue.

Mike Lillis contributed.

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