Congress leaves town for holiday with fate of farm bill undecided

Congress has left Washington for the 10-day Fourth of July holiday without figuring out how to deal with the failed farm bill.

House Democratic and Republican sources said they expect a decision shortly after the recess ends.

Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said the GOP whip count on a split farm bill had not finished as of Friday afternoon.

“They are whipping it and we’ll see what they get,” he said. “I think it’s a dumb idea.”

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has been actively polling GOP members, including at the House gym, as to whether they would prefer to divide the food stamp and farm subsidy portions of the bill.

Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) is opposed to the idea, and argues that it would actually give the House less leverage in conference negotiations with the Senate. 

Peterson said that he had “no idea” how a House-Senate farm bill conference would work if the House passed a farm bill without food stamp changes in it. He said that the Senate would likely feel entitled to ignore any House demands for additional cuts to the program.

The ranking member said he has not yet decided whether he would vote for the split farm bill or whether he would whip support for it. 

The fate of the farm bill is holding up consideration of a 2014 Agriculture appropriations spending bill that has already gone to the Rules Committee.

Lucas has objected to unauthorized changes in the discretionary bill to the mandatory programs. The changes, known as ChIMPs, are an accounting method that appropriators use to assume lower mandatory spending in order to increase yearly discretionary spending while remaining under the budget cap.

Peterson suggested that Lucas was raising a point of order this time in part because of his displeasure over the failure of the farm bill, which faced 62 GOP defections despite Cantor and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) voting ‘aye.’

“They can’t move that bill until Lucas calms down,” he said. 

GOP sources said that the Lucas objections were more routine in nature because authorizing committees regularly object to items in appropriations bills.

Sources said the 2014 spending bill was on the back burner because it would attract the same type of amendment debate that plagued the farm bill and there would be no reason to stir the pot until the bigger $940 billion bill’s fate is figured out.