Farm Bill Update - July 10, 2013

July 10, 2013 07:25 AM

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House farm bill plans | Permanent law question | Still opposition exists

Following are updates on the farm bill process in the House:

Still counting votes: House Republican leaders are continuing their efforts to determine if they can find the 218 votes needed to pass an ag-only farm bill in the House. One piece of evidence that there still wasn't enough support for the ag-only bill came from Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) who is a close ally of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). "I am not going to say yes or no," Latham told CQ Roll Call. "This is historic, taking the [farm bill] apart." He noted that once it has been split into two separate packages, "I think it would be hard to put it back together."

What could get the bill back on track? One key that House Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) is signaling is that if the amendment from Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) and Majority Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on SNAP/food stamps is removed from the bill, there would be the votes for the overall farm bill that the chamber rejected last month.

Rules? The evidence that the votes have yet to be found was accented by the fact the House Rules Committee adjourned Tuesday evening without posting the text of a new bill or scheduling a debate on a rule for the bill. However, Rules panel Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) left the door open to considering a farm bill yet this week.

Opposition remains: The Club for Growth has now come out in opposition to an ag-only farm bill despite the fact that would remove the nutrition programs from the bill. "Breaking up the unholy alliance between agricultural policy and the food stamp program within the traditional farm bill is an excellent decision on behalf of House leadership," said Club for Growth Vice President of Public Affairs. "However, 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, especially under an anticipated closed rule. It is still loaded down with market-distorting giveaways to special interests with no path established to remove the government's involvement in the agriculture industry."

Meanwhile, Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham called on the chamber to "start over and pursue real, free-market reforms; simply holding separate votes on failed policy is nothing more than a different path to the same failed policies."

Permanent law issue: There was also talk that the 1949 Act or "permanent law" was potentially going to be removed from the package. Some expressed concern at that situation, noting it would remove the reason for lawmakers to do another farm bill. But sources say that if the current permanent law is removed from the bill, what would take its place would be whatever the current provisions in Title I - the commodity title - of the bill. That would remove the potential that antiquated and outdated programs would be enacted that would have costly impacts, such as boosting commercial milk prices by several dollars.

Stutzman strategy: Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) told a Heritage Foundation blogger gathering Tuesday that reform of SNAP if the farm bill were split apart could come as a larger anti-poverty plan that Southerland and Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise (R-La.) are compiling. "For us to make the reforms in the food stamp program, it has to stand alone," Stutzman said. "We could come back with a stronger bill that makes more reforms, more cuts in the food stamp program immediately."

Comments: The House farm bill situation remains very fluid and House Speaker Boehner told Republican colleagues "wants the farm bill up and out of the House" by August. The keys to watch are the House Rules Committee as Republican leaders will not bring a bill to the House floor that faces defeat. And if they can't find the votes, the Rules panel will not take the matter up. So the farm bill dance in Washington continues with the myriad of partners all trying to lead and toes are likely to be stepped on in the process.

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