House leaders wary of farm, postal bill fights
No action expected before August break on legislation
WASHINGTON – Senate-passed bills to cut farm subsidies and food stamps and overhaul the financially teetering Postal Service have been put on hold by House Republican leaders wary of igniting internal party fights or risking voters’ ire three months before the election.
The House is scheduled this week to take up a bill to replace the Obama administration’s offshore drilling plan, which the Senate will ignore. What’s not on the schedule are a farm bill important to farmers coping with a drought and a Postal Service bill dealing with politically unpopular but inevitable post office closings and a scaling back of mail delivery.
“There is no excuse not to bring the farm bill to the floor,” Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, said Friday. “We’ve wasted the last two weeks on political messaging bills that are going nowhere.”
That doesn’t appear likely to change before Congress departs for a five-week August recess. In the final week before the break, the Republican-controlled House is set to vote on a bill to extend for one year the Bush-era tax cuts, including those for wealthier people. Again, that’s a bill that the Senate would reject, but it will lay down stakes as the election approaches.
That doesn’t leave much time for the farm and postal bills, which affect the future of food production and mail delivery but generate controversies that politicians would prefer to avoid in an election year.
The farm bill puts fiscal conservatives from rural districts in a position of having to vote against federal subsidies for farmers and could force Democrats to vote for cuts to the federal food stamp program. The postal bill might require lawmakers to decide on shutting post offices or terminating Saturday service.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., co-author of the Postal Service bill that passed the Senate in April, said the House’s “refusal or inability to act is making a bad situation worse by creating more uncertainty, further undermining confidence in the Postal Service’s future.”
Two dozen House Democrats and 38 Republicans, including Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, wrote a letter last week urging House leaders to bring up the farm bill before the August recess. “The message from our constituents and rural America is clear: We need a farm bill now,” said the letter.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California was on board, saying “inaction means economic, nutritional and employment crisis throughout our rural communities.”
But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., have brushed aside pressures to bring the bill up. Besides the focus on election-year topics, there’s a reluctance to spend time on a farm bill that could produce hundreds of amendments and might not pass.
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