GOP moves closer to splitting farm bill

House Republicans on Tuesday appeared to be moving closer to splitting the $939 billion farm bill into pieces, although leadership said no decision has been made. 

Splitting food stamp funding from subsidies supporting agriculture would be a victory for conservatives and the idea has been opposed by nutrition, agriculture and environmental lobbyists. 

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GOP leaders since before the July 4 recess have been whipping the two separate bills to gauge interest, but Rory Cooper, a spokesman for Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorMeet Trump's most trusted pollsters Embattled Juul seeks allies in Washington GOP faces tough battle to become 'party of health care' MORE (R-Va.) said there has been no decision "to schedule a vote on a farm bill, in any form.”

Still, House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) told The Hill Tuesday he is open to the idea if it would help get a farm bill done. An aide said that a split farm bill could come to the Rules Committee as soon as Tuesday night.

"I am open to thinking outside the box. Splitting the farm bill would certainly be thinking outside the box," he said. "We've got to get a farm bill done."

Cantor has been pushing the idea of splitting the bill, which Lucas previously has been reluctant to embrace. 

At a closed-door meeting Tuesday, Lucas said Cantor and other leaders are taking the right approach, and this could provide a boost to bringing a split farm bill to the floor soon, an aide said.

Another aide said Lucas still prefers to keep the farm bill in one piece but noted he has previously told local Oklahoma media he would support splitting the idea if leaders decided that is the way to go.

Lucas on Tuesday said splitting the bill would be "contrary to tradition."

Food stamp funding has been paired with farm subsidies since the early 1970s, and a coalition of urban and rural lawmakers from both parties have ensured passage of farm bills just about every five years. A coalition of 532 farm groups wrote to House leaders last week urging them not to break up the farm bill.

The 2013 farm bill failed spectacularly on the House floor last month on a 195-234 vote. Most Democrats opposed the $20.5 billion in food stamp cuts in the bill while 61 Republicans voted against it, in part, because the food stamp cuts were not deep enough.

The Senate has already passed a united farm bill, and it is unclear how a House-Senate conference on a split farm bill would proceed.

Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the ranking member on the Agriculture committee, said splitting the farm bill could actually increase the number of Democrats voting for the farm subsidy portion since there would be no cuts to food stamps in the bill.

"I think it actually picks up votes," he said.

He predicted though that the move in the end would kill the farm bill in conference. Sending just a farm subsidy bill to the Senate would result in the House-Senate conference sending back just $5 billion in food stamp cuts, he said. Such a bill would not have enough House GOP support to pass.

"I just don't see how this gets it done," he added. "All this does is allow the House to blame the Senate.

"When 532 groups send you a letter saying don't do this, it's pretty stupid to do this I think," Peterson said.

In June, Lucas told the Oklahoma Farm Report he was against splitting the bill, something being pushed by Americans for Prosperity, a Tea Party group.

"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 said.

Lucas told The Hill that he did not know when the split farm bill would come to the floor or if it could pass.

"Management has to make a decision," he said. "I am not the vote counter."

Bernie Becker contributed.

This story was updated at 1:44 p.m.