UPDATED - PERSPECTIVE: House Republicans Had 'The Real Farm Bill Debate' Today

June 26, 2013 09:12 AM

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House GOP confab today brought out frustrations, but some true debate on sensitive matters

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Nothing like a true intra-party squabble in the House to finally get some real debate about the farm bill – especially when compared with the Senate.

House Republicans met today and quotes from some of them showed there was frustration, but signals of opportunity ahead to get the farm bill passed in the House chamber and on its way to still higher hurdles via a conference with the Senate.

Farm bill supporters made a frequent remark heard right after last week's shocker when the farm bill met with defeat: Why did so many Republicans, especially chairmen (six), vote against the bill? And why did some of them vote against final passage when some of their amendments passed, such as when House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) scored a very decisive victory over lawmakers such as House Ag Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) when dairy supply management language was deleted from dairy policy reform. And, more than a few Democratic members voted in favor of the Goodlatte amendment, providing clear evidence that dairy policy was not, as some mistakenly have reported, one of the reasons why the House farm bill went down to defeat. 

So, no answer to that question.

Conservatives conserve their yes votes. Farm bill supporters asked why so many conservative Republicans voted against final passage when some of their food stamp provisions were approved – notably the likely bill-killing amendment offered by Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) but really authored and supported in floor debate by none other than House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

No answer to that question.

"What’s worked in the past didn’t work," said arch-conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.), who argued for splitting the bill between nutrition funding and farm policy funding. "So we can sit here and moan and groan and blame each other, or we can say, ‘Alright, obviously times have changed, things are different, we’re going to find a different strategy. The best way forward, I think, is to separate the two and work on them separately," Stutzman said. Stutzman offered an amendment to the Rules Committee that would have divided the bill (HR 1947), but it was ruled out of order.

There was an answer to the splitting proposal. Do not. So said Lucas, who after the GOP session said that neither farm programs nor the nutrition title can pass alone, so dividing the bill is a non-starter. He said there are discussions happening at the leadership level to figure out a path ahead. "Splitting the bill just simply means not having a bill and that’s the least acceptable option. Everything else is on the table. I’m working through scenarios with my friends," Lucas said.

UPDATE: Before you totally dismiss splitting out certain sections of the farm bill, think again. I have learned that none other than House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) personally supports this approach and earlier asked Lucas and apparently Goodlatte about this but when he got pushback, he backed off any such splitting. But I'm told everything is now on the table – simply deleting the Cantor/Southerland amendment, carving out the nutrition title, etc. "Everything is on the table," was the refrain I kept getting.


Vote yes, then no not the way to go. Some GOP members questioned why colleagues who supported other amendments that were adopted did not vote for the bill, too.

No answer to that question.

Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) noted questions regarding "the Democrats who promised 40 votes and did not deliver it."

No answer to that question because Rep. Peterson was not in the session.

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) had pehaps the most intelligent comments when he warned colleagues that defeating the bill has political ramifications for members who represent heavily agricultural districts. Among Cramer's complaints was, as previously noted, Goodlatte voting gainst the bill after prevailing on an amendment that stripped the bill of a supply-management plan for milk. "I’m very frustrated that we had chairmen — and others, frankly, but especially chairmen — who offer amendments, pass amendments and then vote against the bill. I think that lacks integrity, that lacks legislative integrity," Cramer said. "We don’t have a recognition by some people in the conference that our majority isn’t big enough to have purity. ... To bypass a real reform opportunity for lack of purity really lets the Democrats control the agenda, that was really my point."

Cramer hit the farm bill truth meter on that one, sources advise. Still, no answer. 

The real story. I preeviously reported that based on key inside House sources, the farm bill defeat was closer than most thought – likely by 8 to 10 votes. Reason: Some 15 or more Republicans would have voted for the measure had it not appeared the bill was headed to defeat. Among those were several of the conservatives in the party. I also reported that a strategic GOP leadership mistake was made late Wednesday evening when it was decided to go ahead amd have a final farm bill vote on Thursday, rather than having another Whip meeting on Thursday to determine the lay of the land (votes) after the heavy dose of amendments, including the impact of the farm bill killer amendment pushed by Cantor and Southerland. That did not happen. A delayed vote until this week would have exposed the fact that Peterson could only deliver 24 Democratic votes, rather than the 40 he reportedly pledged earlier, before the Southerland/Cantor amendment, and the 32 Democratic votes that Republican leadership apparently counted on.

Next step: The farm bill pieces are still being picked up, but sources expect another House GOP leadership attempt to pass a revised farm bill after lawmakers come back from their July Fourth recess. Whether that will be early or late July is another question that went unanswered today.

But at least there was some honest debate for a change.


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






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