PERSPECTIVE: End Zone for Farm Bill

June 11, 2013 05:14 AM
 
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via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

How the House could pass the bill, but conference could prove interesting as well

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


It was always easy to predict the nearly $1 trillion farm bill would sail through the Senate. That chamber likes to spend money. And the limited floor debate helped grease the skids for passage Monday via a 66-27 vote count. Some farm policy observers naively say the “strong” vote in the Senate will pressure the House to clear its measure. Really? If only it would be that simple or simplistic, which is the definition of that assessment.

So what is going to happen in the House? House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Monday said there would be “vigorous” debate. That is not declaring a truly open rule, but there should be more floor amendments than the Senate version.

The biggest difference between the Senate-passed farm bill and the pending House version is food stamp/SNAP funding cuts. The Senate came up with only $4 billion for a program that spends around 80 percent of all USDA funding. The pending House bill would cut $20.5 billion, a figure that will likely go higher once floor amendments are considered and voted on.

The food stamp difference is magnified when one considers that Democratic senators were not all that enthused about cutting $4 billion. Most of their House counterparts will not likely vote for a bill with at least five times the cuts. The reverse is true for Republicans – they think $20.5 billion is too low.

So how many Democratic House members will vote for the farm bill? At one juncture, some House Democrats signaled around 70 Democratic votes. Others put the tally at 30 to 35. Farm bill supporters like the starting number to be low so they can surprise – or think they can.

Reuters reported that 134 out of 201 House Democrats have signed a resolution against any cuts to nutrition programs. So unless they quickly go to confession after voting for the farm bill, let's assume those 134 will vote their conscience and vote against the House farm bill. That leaves 67 Democratic votes – near that earlier mentioned 70-vote prediction.

Either way, it appears there has to be an overwhelming number of Republicans votes in favor of the bill for it to pass the House chamber – lets say from 148 to 188. Impossible? No. But still hard to get.

House Republican leaders want the farm bill to pass. That is important. Frankly, they have farm bill fatigue and want it out of the way well before 2014 elections. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is expected to be surveying House Republicans this week to gauge support for the farm bill. And he's going to be helped by farm-state lawmakers and farm industry lobbyists – some very experienced at determining who to go after – and how to get the votes.

On the Democratic side, sources say Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will not actively oppose the legislation – even though most think she will not vote for the measure due to the food stamp cuts. That may save a few Democratic votes – we'll see.

There is growing interest among House members to learn about the farm bill – no easy task for urbanite and suburbanite lawmakers whose eyes glaze over when trying to understand farm policy. Around 70 members stayed to learn more about the farm bill after the GOP Caucus meeting last Tuesday – a good sign that at least they wanted to learn about the measure.

If the votes are not garnered to pass the farm bill in the House, GOP leaders will yank it from the floor. But as noted before, House GOP leaders want this bill completed – approved – on their terms. “Just get it to conference” is the message I've heard GOP leaders have told their colleagues.

GOP leaders know that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) truly believes that the House inability to pass a farm bill in 2012 helped win a few Senate Democratic elections, namely in North Dakota and Montana. They know he and House Democratic leaders will use that same line of thinking if the House cannot get its farm bill past the finish line this year. So, there is indeed a political angle in just getting the farm bill passed by the House and pushed to a conference.

So, a big assumption now: Let's assume the House approves the farm bill. Observers say how can a conference report be worked out, especially regarding food stamp cuts, that will not upset Democratic and Republican lawmakers. I'm not sure of the answer, but some veteran contacts say do not necessarily think any farm bill conference report will be a solo event. That is, it could be linked with a must-pass measure that could give some lawmakers cover enough to get the report passed by both chambers.



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


 


 

 

 

 

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