House Republican leaders are whipping interest among their members on whether to split the food stamp program from a multi-year farm bill and bring an agriculture subsidies-only measure to the floor — a plan that would run against angry Democrats and even some reluctant Republicans.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has been quietly pressing for separate food stamp and farmer aid bills since the GOP-led chamber last month stunningly voted down a five-year, comprehensive farm bill after more than 60 Republicans rejected the GOP-written measure.
A major sticking point was the bill’s proposed $2 billion in annual cuts to the food stamp program, with Democrats complaining it was too severe and Republicans saying the cuts didn’t go far enough.
Publicly Cantor and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, say they haven’t decided what to do next. But senior House aides say the pair considers spinning off the food stamp program from the bill’s agricultural component as perhaps the only way break the gridlock.
Cantor’s proposal to split the farm bill in two is meant to win back support of conservatives who rejected the farm bill last month. For the plan to work, it would need the votes of 218 Republicans in the 435-member chamber, as no Democrats likely would support the two-bill approach. But while House GOP leaders spent Tuesday gauging support, it’s not certain if they have it.
Funding for food stamps and other nutrition programs — which accounts for about 80 percent of the almost $1 trillion bill — would be dealt with in a separate measure.
The food stamp program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and aid to farmers have been part of the same bill since the 1970s.
Several influential outside conservatives groups, such as Heritage Action for America and the Club for Growth, have strongly pushed House Republican leaders for a two-bill approach.
But the agriculture industry generally is opposed to splitting the bill, saying such action would make it extremely difficult for either portion to pass in today’s highly partisan Congress.
Farm bills usually are among the most bipartisan legislative endeavors in Congress, as lawmakers from farm states, regardless of party, work to ensure their success while those from urban areas lend their support because of the food stamp provisions.
The Democratic-controlled Senate in early June passed its version of the farm bill with a wide bipartisan majority. The measure includes a fifth of the House’s proposed food stamp cuts, or about $400 million a year.
The most recent multiyear farm bill expired at the end of September 2012, although programs continued through temporary funding extensions. The Senate last year easily passed a five-year replacement farm bill, but partisan and intraparty bickering prevented a House version from even getting to the floor for a vote.