WASHINGTON – Republican leaders hoping to recover from an embarrassing defeat on the House floor last month are preparing to split a massive farm bill in two and vote on it today.
The GOP House leadership released a smaller version of the five-year bill late Wednesday, dropping a politically sensitive section of the legislation that would have made small cuts to the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program. Republicans are divided on how big cuts should be to food stamps, which have doubled in cost in the last five years. Democrats have opposed any cuts.
The White House swiftly issued a veto threat of the legislation, saying food stamps should not be left out of the bill. The White House had also threatened to veto the original bill, saying it did not include enough reductions to farm subsidies and that the food stamp cuts were too high.
Republicans have been counting votes for the bill containing only the farm programs over the last two days, with a food stamp bill to come at a later date. Farm groups, anti-hunger groups and conservative groups have all opposed the idea for different reasons.
The split bill is an attempt to gather support from conservatives who voted against the $100 billion-a-year farm bill. The House rejected the farm bill in June by a vote of 234-195, with 62 Republicans voting against it, many of them saying the bill’s 3 percent cut in food stamps was not enough.
The idea is that the farm portion of the bill, which contains about $2 billion a year in cuts to farm subsidies, could pass without the food stamp provisions. By splitting the two, Republicans might be able to make bigger cuts in food stamp programs and pass that bill with conservative support.
House Democrats reacted angrily to the last-minute move. Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, called it a “bill to nowhere” since the Democratic Senate is likely to add the food stamp money back in. The Democratic-led Senate, which overwhelmingly passed a farm bill with smaller cuts to food stamps, would be reluctant to go along with a split bill or further cuts to the programs.
“This dead-on-arrival messaging bill only seeks to accomplish one objective,” Hoyer said. “To make it appear that Republicans are moving forward with important legislation even while they continue to struggle at governing.”
House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said as recently as last week that he opposed splitting the bill. But he has now reluctantly agreed to the strategy, saying he would support it if his Republican leaders could deliver the votes. Late Wednesday, he gave a reserved endorsement of the plan.