Key to Democrats' Vote on House Farm Bill is Pelosi's Support

May 19, 2013 10:17 PM
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Peterson unveils farm bill House floor strategy | Pelosi supports 'moving forward' but no comments on specifics

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will support moving the House farm bill forward, Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said Friday. “Leader Pelosi is behind us. I’ve talked to her, and she will be supporting us,” he said during comments to reporters.

But Pelosi's office on Friday said that the minority leader supports moving forward on a farm bill, but has not weighed in on the substance of the Agriculture Committee bill. "As Ranking Member Peterson stated today (May 17), Leader Pelosi is supportive of getting a five year farm bill reauthorized. She is hopeful that the Republican leadership will bring the committee-passed bill to the floor under an open rule so that Members will have an opportunity to weigh in. Sixteen million jobs are on the line, including 800,000 jobs in California," spokesman Drew Hammill said.

Key to the apparent mid-June House farm bill debate, veteran farm bill watchers advise, is how many Democratic members reject the proposed $20.5 billion cuts in food stamp (SNAP) funding from the budget baseline, and how many Republicans will bolt from the measure because they think the funding cut is too low.

Peterson summed up the food stamp funding cut issue this way: “We’ve got to get 218 votes in the House. That’s a tricky thing because you have some Democrats who have taken the position that SNAP can’t be cut one penny, which I think is not defensible — I think that’s a ridiculous position. And we have people on the other side who want $130 billion in cuts, and that’s ridiculous. So we have got to find out where that balance is.”

The key to holding Democratic members in line appears to be looking ahead to a likely House-Senate conference to reconcile differences between the two difference farm bill approaches. Peterson said Democrats should realize that the food stamp issue will be resolved in a conference committee with the Senate, and the Senate farm bill has only $4 billion in food stamp cuts. But the key in conference, sources say, is which lawmakers are selected. A conference is expected to be chaired by House Ag Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.).

Both bills limit a current link between receiving heating aid and qualifying for food stamps, but the House bill goes further and eliminates a system of qualifying for benefits known as “categorical eligibility,” which is expected to reduce use of food stamps.

Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) on May 16 said, “I absolutely reject the level of cuts and the way this is done in the House. They eliminate something called categorical eligibility, which we've now voted down either two or three times on the Senate floor on a bipartisan basis. It came up in committee this week, it was voted down on a bipartisan basis. So that policy does not have support in the US Senate. I won't support it in conference, and so we will look for ways that we can continue to provide savings by tackling abuse, or misuse."

House food stamp amendment fails. An attempt on May 15 to reverse the $20.5 billion in food stamp cuts in the House farm bill, sponsored by Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), was defeated by a vote of 17 to 27.

In an unusual development, even for talkative Peterson, the ranking member of the Agriculture panel then talked about what he said were the farm bill positions of both House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). Peterson said they are going to oppose the farm bill, but that the majority whip who represents rural California will likely help pass it. “Kevin McCarthy, who is the whip, probably will be for this bill. At the end of the day, there will be some help from their side,” Peterson predicted.

Sources close to Boehner and Cantor said reports of their opposition to the farm bill are not accurate, nor has either one indicated the members' position, especially before several amendments are expected to be voted on during coming House floor debate.

Peterson, who is getting out in front of the farm bill process, said he and Lucas are seeking a modified closed rule to limit the number of amendments on the floor when the bill comes up – apparently in mid-June, according to Peterson. He predicted strong challenges regarding nutrition funding and to the sugar and dairy support systems in the bill. Another contentious issue, he said, would be lining conservation compliance to the crop insurance program. Regarding dairy policy, Peterson earlier this week reportedly told some people that lobbyists opposed to supply management in the dairy reform language were doing a better job than those supporting it.

As for the House farm bill strategy, Peterson said, “We’re meeting starting Monday and Tuesday to put together our whip operation for dairy and sugar to make sure we have enough votes to maintain those programs on the floor,” he said, adding he is working with Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho). Boehner has described the dairy supply management proposal in the bill as “Soviet style,” and Peterson said this week that the Speaker is lobbying members to oppose the proposal. We don't have to do what we did in '08 because at least we don't have to fight the administration," Peterson said, referring to the George W. Bush administration's lack of support and eventual veto of the farm bill that year, which was overridden by Congress.

Peterson believes the farm bill could be completed before the August recess if both versions are able to get past floor debates in the coming weeks. The Senate begins its debate on Monday, May 20; if Peterson is correct, the House will begin its debate in mid-June.

Comments: Congressional sources say Pelosi of course would want to move the farm bill process along for debate and votes because she does not want Democratic members to be seen slowing the process, but she would likely be very cool toward approving food stamp funding cuts that are five times the level in the proposed Senate farm bill, with potential amendments increasing the House cuts along with more stringent food stamp requirements.

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.






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