House Republican leaders Wednesday night introduced a multiyear farm bill that for the first time in decades doesn’t include food stamp funding, a move designed to break a year-long logjam on farmers’ aid but one that will be a hard sell to Democrats and reluctant Republicans.
A vote on an agriculture subsidies-only measure is expected on the House floor Thursday.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has been quietly pressing for separate food stamp and farmers’ aid bills since the Republican-led chamber last month surprisingly voted down a five-year, comprehensive farm bill. Funding for food stamps and other nutrition programs accounted for more than 75 percent of the almost $1 trillion measure.
A major sticking point was the bill’s proposed $2 billion in annual cuts to the food stamp program, with Democrats complaining it was too severe and Republicans saying the cuts didn’t go far enough.
“To move forward with a bill that does not include [food stamp] funding is a shameful abandonment of the most vulnerable in our country,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md. “Republicans know this is a bill to nowhere – even if they succeed in passing it through the House, the Senate will not consider a farm bill without nutrition assistance.”
The food stamp program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and aid to farmers have been part of the same bill since 1977.
Farm bills usually are among the most bipartisan legislative endeavors in Congress, as lawmakers from farm areas, regardless of party, work to ensure their success while those from urban centers lend their support because of the food stamp provisions.
The most recent multiyear farm bill expired at the end of September 2012, although programs continued through temporary funding extensions.
The Democratic-controlled Senate passed five-year farm bills with wide bipartisan majorities the past two years. But partisan and intraparty bickering prevented a House version from even getting a floor vote last year, while this year’s attempt in the chamber failed after 62 Republicans voted against the GOP-drafted bill.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who voted for the farm bill, said that while he prefers to keep food stamp funding in the measure, he will support a split-bill approach.
“It’s appropriate for [House Republican leaders] to try it this way if they think it’s best, but it’s not the call I would make,” he said. “I think it’s always been a bipartisan bill and I think it will be a bipartisan bill in the end.”
Several influential outside conservatives groups, including Heritage Action for America, the Club for Growth, Americans for Tax Reform and FreedomWorks, have strongly pressed House GOP leaders for a two-bill approach, saying that funding for nutrition programs and farmers’ aid are separate issues.
And some of the groups say they will oppose the House stand-alone agriculture bill unless it’s stripped of the thousands of pet projects, or “pork,” that farm bills typically are loaded with.
“The whole purpose of splitting up the bill is to enact true reform that reduces the size and scope of government. Sadly, this ‘farm-only’ bill does not do that,” said a Club for Growth statement .
But Club for Growth President Chris Chocola told the Washington Examiner his group would be willing to endorse the House’s agriculture–only bill if House GOP leaders guarantee that food stamp funding isn’t reinserted when House and Senate negotiators hammer out a compromise between the chambers’ versions — if the House measure passes.
“If somebody in leadership would offer assurances that they’re not going to do that and there’s no way that it would come back from conference together, then that would be a big deal,” he said.
Meanwhile, the agriculture industry generally is opposed to splitting the bill, saying such action would make it extremely difficult for either portion to pass in today’s highly partisan Congress.
Rebecca Berg contributed to this article.