House GOP mulls splitting farm bill

Momentum is building in the House Republican conference for splitting up the farm bill into a food stamp measure and one on farm subsidies.

House leaders are looking to craft a bill that can pass without any Democratic support, after the bipartisan Agriculture Committee bill failed in spectacular fashion on the floor last week in a 195 to 234 vote.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who voted for the failed $940 billion bill, is overseeing the effort to craft a new approach and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) does not want the bill to rely on Democrats at all.

Boehner told reporters Thursday that many options are being discussed and no decision had yet been made.

Cantor thought he could count on 40 Democratic votes for the failed bill and his office has accused Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) of betraying them by supplying only 24 votes.

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“Cantor believes the best path now is to move forward with a bill that has 218 Republican votes since Democrats proved they cannot be trusted to work in good faith, and that path may be splitting up the bill,” a senior GOP aide said.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the “young gun” ally of Cantor, has also been pushing this idea.

“We should separate food stamps from what we call the Commodity Title. Eighty-three percent of the farm bill is food stamps. So when you think farm bill, you think farmers. No. Eighty-three percent of that spending is the food stamp program. We should treat the food stamp program on its own, as its separate program, and reform it,” Ryan said on “Morning Joe” on Monday.

The House-passed Ryan budget cut food stamps by $135 billion over 10 years by block granting the program. The failed farm bill had $20.5 billion in cuts.

Last week, Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) had tried to offer an amendment at the Rules Committee to split up the farm bill but it was ruled out of order, a move that infuriated House conservatives.

Stutzman has been consulting with GOP leaders on the path forward.

"I really see support building for this idea," Stutzman told The Hill. He said he would vote for the farm bill if the food stamps are simply stripped out. He expected a decision on what to do over July 4.

Conservative Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said he opposed splitting the bill. He said that, heading into a conference with the Senate, a combined bill is the only way to get Democrats to swallow any food stamp cuts.

"What I want from leaders is a plan to get 218 votes on a combined bill by the time we leave here for July 4," he argued.

Splitting up the farm bill has long been a conservative goal. The alliance of farm-state members and urban lawmakers representing impoverished residents has ensured high-spending farm bills won approval in the past.

On Thursday, the possibility of such a split was welcomed by Heritage Action for America, the activist offshot of the conservative Heritage Foundation think-tank.

"We are encouraged to hear reports that House Republican leaders are actively considering the separation of the so-called farm bill," CEO Michael A. Needham said. "This is an important first step to restoring fiscal sanity and transparency to this debate."

Splitting the bill would complicate a House-Senate farm bill conference. Peterson said Wednesday that he does not think the GOP can muster the votes to pass a farm bill without Democrats given the fact that some fiscal conservatives would oppose any farm subsidies at all.

Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) is fighting against the effort to split the bill.

"When you look at the so-called political activists' groups on the East Coast — the paid mercenaries — they don't want a farm bill and that's why they advocate for these things, because they see it as the best way to kill the farm safety net," he told The Oklahoma Farm Report on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, House conservatives privately and publicly pressed Boehner to stop negotiating with Democrats.

The current farm bill expires on Sept. 30 and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has threatened not to move a simple extension of the 2008 bill.

Once the bill expires, farm subsidies would stop but food stamp entitlement benefits would go on autopilot.