July 9 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. House leaders have decided to split food stamps and other nutrition programs from farm subsidies and bring an agriculture-only bill up for a vote before the August recess, a Republican leadership aide said.
Such a move would amount to a divorce for farm and nutrition programs, which have moved through Congress as part of the same bill since 1977.
Last month, the House defeated a $939 billion farm-and-food bill, H.R. 1947, after lawmakers adopted food-stamp amendments opposed by Democrats.
Removing food stamps and other nutrition programs for low- income Americans from the farm bill may enable Republican leaders to gain support within their own ranks to pass the agricultural subsidies without the support of Democrats, who had objected to the legislation’s $20.5 billion in cuts to the food programs over a decade.
House Republican leaders hope to pass the agriculture portion before the August recess, said the aide, who wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss the plans and spoke on condition of anonymity. In a memo last week, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia told his members to "be prepared to act on a revised farm bill" this month, without specifying what that bill would include.
Farm programs start expiring Oct. 1. Any legislation passed by the House must be reconciled with the Senate-passed bill, S. 954, which would cut $4 billion from the food-stamp program over 10 years.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, has said that a farm bill without food stamps is a non-starter.
The plan to separate food stamps from farm programs has the support of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican vice presidential nominee last year, and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, a former Agriculture Committee chairman. Both were among 62 Republicans who voted against the farm bill, which was defeated 195-234 on June 20.
Democratic opposition intensified after the House adopted an amendment, backed by Cantor, that would have allowed states to set work requirements for food-stamp recipients. Only 24 Democrats supported the farm bill, prompting Cantor to accuse the minority party of playing politics with farm issues.
After the bill’s defeat, Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, said that more members of his party were prepared to vote for the measure until the House adopted the work-requirement amendment.
Today, Peterson called the two-bill proposal a "crazy strategy" and said it would backfire.
"I don’t see how they get 218 votes for the farm portion of the bill," said Peterson, who predicted no Democrats would vote for it because Republicans are "are making it partisan on purpose."
Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, an Oklahoma Republican, has opposed splitting the legislation, arguing that such a move could divide the rural-urban coalition that Farm Belt lawmakers have put together to pass the legislation.
Still, he told constituents at town-hall meetings during last week’s break for the July 4 holiday that he would support splitting the farm measure if Republican leaders can get the votes to pass it.
"The short answer is I don’t necessarily think it’s a good idea, but I will do what I have to do to get a bill passed," Lucas told a town hall meeting, according to a July 2 account in the Stillwater, Oklahoma, News Press.
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