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Published June 27, 2013, 05:38 PM

Future of the farm bill in limbo as Congress leaves for July 4 holiday

The House farm bill, which failed to gain enough votes for passage on June 20, was left in limbo as the Republican majority remained divided on the bill and members of Congress left the nation’s capital for the July 4 holiday.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — The House farm bill, which failed to gain enough votes for passage on June 20, was left in limbo as the Republican majority remained divided on the bill and members of Congress left the nation’s capital for the July 4 holiday.

“There are a lot of conversations going on about the farm bill and the way forward,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters on June 27. “There have been no decisions.” Boehner did not answer a reporter’s question about whether he favors splitting the farm bill in two, with one bill on farm programs and another bill on food stamps.

Boehner’s comments came a day after Republicans privately and publicly disagreed about what direction to take, according to various media reports.

At a Republican Conference meeting, conservatives said the leadership could bring the bill up again in two pieces, but House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said that would mean there would be no farm bill, since votes from urban members are needed to pass the bill.

Since the 1960s, when the rural population dwindled and it became difficult to pass farm bills, the reauthorization of food stamps has brought many votes to the bill. This year’s House farm bill would cut food stamp spending by $20.5 billion over 10 years. Liberal Democrats didn’t like that provision, but supported the bill when Republicans added an amendment that would have allowed states to impose work requirements and keep half the savings if officials were able to deny food stamps from applicants because they did not work.

Even with the addition of that amendment and one to alter the dairy program that House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., had written with the help of dairy farmers, 62 Republicans did not vote for the bill.

House conservatives such as Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., and former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who sponsored the dairy amendment, are still telling Republican leaders they should split the farm bill into two bills. But Reps. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and Kristi Noem, R-S.D., told their colleagues they felt let down because Republican members won their amendments, but still did not support the bill on final passage, according to media reports.

“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,” Cramer told Roll Call, a Washington daily newspaper that covers Capitol Hill. “I think that lacks integrity; that lacks legislative integrity. 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 said Republicans — especially committee chairmen — who voted against the farm bill are “jeopardizing the whole majority,” Politico, another Washington newspaper, reported.

Noem, who once served in Republican leadership, took aim squarely at House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., Politico said. Noem asked Cantor to explain how he was going to move forward, but he did not come up with a response that satisfied her, Politico said.

Lucas, meanwhile, told the Oklahoma Farm Report that splitting the bill makes no sense. “How many times have you heard me say in public that with the 2002 Farm Bill it became nutrition, it became a commodity title, and it became a conservation bill,” Lucas said in the interview. “If we don’t have that three-legged stool, we can’t get by on one leg by ourselves. When you look at the so-called political activist groups on the East Coast, the paid mercenaries, they don’t want a farm bill and that’s why they advocate these things. This is the best way to kill a farm safety net, is split us up, chop us up and cause us to wilt and die.”

Lucas and Peterson have been meeting, but until the Republican majority decides what to do, there is not much of a role for Peterson to play. Peterson has noted that the bill won’t pass with only Republican votes because there are too many Republicans opposed to farm subsidies.