House Republican leaders will attempt to go it alone on a farm-policy bill, betting they can pull 218 votes from within their own party for a five-year extension of agriculture subsidies.
The bill they intend to bring to the floor, H.R. 2642, omits language to renew food-aid programs for the poor. That decision breaks up the urban-rural coalition that has successfully negotiated similar bills for decades.
“They are ignoring the advice of most of the groups affected by the bill and I see no clear path to getting a bill passed by the House and Senate and signed by the President,” said Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee.
More than 530 groups with a stake in farm policy had urged House Speaker John Boehner in a July 2 letter not to split food stamps from crop subsidies.
Republicans said they were left with few options after the defeat of an earlier bill, H.R. 1947. It was rejected 195-234, with many Democrats citing its $20.5 billion in projected cuts to domestic food aid over 10 years. Only 24 Democrats voted for it while 172 opposed it.
The new approach is risky. Some small-government advocacy groups said they don’t like the possibility that a later House-Senate conference committee could go its own way.
“We highly suspect that this whole process is a ‘rope-a-dope’ exercise” of “splitting up the farm bill only as a means to get to conference with the Senate where a bicameral back-room deal will reassemble the commodity and food stamp titles, leaving us back where we started,” one of those groups, the Club for Growth, said in a statement.
White House officials also say they would recommend the president veto the measure, saying it lacks “sufficient commodity and crop insurance reforms” and “fails to reauthorize nutrition programs.”
Republicans working to round up votes for the new bill said they were stressing that it’s built to avoid the expiration of farm programs in the future. It would repeal language that lets federal policy revert to provisions first established in 1938 and 1949, when the nation and its farm economy were quite different.
The threat of allowing those old laws to resume has been one of the forces prodding Congress to modernize farm-subsidy and farm-loan programs, since the laws set terms that could double the wholesale price of milk in 2014.
“The one we pass now would be the permanent law,” Texas Republican Michael Conaway said in an interview.
Beyond that, the bill is basically the same as the previous farm bill; it would end direct payments to U.S. farmers and expand a crop insurance-based crop safety net.
The legislation, which benefits crop-buyers such as Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. (ADM:US), grocers including Supervalu Inc. (SVU:US) and insurers including Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC:US), has been working through Congress for almost two years.
The Senate on June 10 passed S. 954, a plan that would cost $955 billion over a decade. Current law begins to expire Sept. 30.
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