Farm lobbyists strike back against push to split House farm bill

Farm lobbyists are pushing back heavily against a conservative drive to split off the food stamp and farm subsidy portions of the trillion-dollar farm bill.

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The farm bill failed spectacularly on the House floor late last month because it contained too few food stamp cuts for conservatives and too many for liberals.

During the current recess, House leaders are polling their members to see if separating the bill would allow a path forward for the farm subsidies bill, a path that is needed by the time the 2008 farm bill expires on Sept. 30.

On Tuesday, K street fired off a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) opposing that effort. It was signed by 532 national and regional organizations, including the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union, and major commodity groups such as the National Cotton Council and Southern Peanut Farmers Federation to the National Milk Producers Federation and American Soybean Association.

“America’s agriculture, conservation, rural development, finance, forestry, energy and crop insurance companies and organizations strongly urge you to bring the Farm Bill (H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013) back to the Floor as soon as possible,” the letter states.

“It is vital for the House to try once again to bring together a broad coalition of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to provide certainty for farmers, rural America, the environment and our economy in general and pass a five-year farm bill upon returning in July,” it states. “We believe that splitting the nutrition title from the rest of the bill could result in neither farm nor nutrition programs passing, and urge you to move a unified farm bill forward.”

The letters comes as Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.), who is leading the fight to split the bill, expressed increasing confidence in his quest this week. A whip check of the idea is expected to lead to a decision on the farm bill after the July 4 break. 

Fiscal conservatives have long sought to break up the urban-rural McGovern-Dole coalition that backs the farm bill, believing that doing so would open up the chance to trim farm subsidies and food stamp spending much more deeply.

Splitting the farm bill may not be enough to get it passed, however.

Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, which whipped against the combined bill, say they would not be satisfied with just a split version.

"Splitting the farm bill absent real reforms isn't cause for celebration; it's just different path toward financial ruin," Heritage spokesman Dan Holler said.

Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller said "Splitting the bill in two as the vehicle to simply pass more bad policy is not something that we would support."

The House farm bill cuts $40 billion in spending with $20.5 billion of that coming from food stamps. The House-passed budget blueprint calls for $135 billion in cuts, however. 

Americans for Prosperity is driving the campaign to split the farm bill.