WASHINGTON — A month after suffering an embarrassing defeat, House Republican leaders are considering a new strategy to try to win support for the massive, five-year farm bill: splitting it into two separate measures, one for farm programs and one for food stamps.
It’s an attempt to gather support from conservatives who voted against the $100 billion-a-year farm bill, and critics say it could lead to bigger cuts in both farm subsidies and the domestic food aid.
Republicans discussed the strategy in a Tuesday caucus meeting, with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., saying for the first time that he would go along with a split bill if leaders could deliver the votes. Republicans were assessing support for the idea, and a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said no decisions had been made on how to revive the bill.
The House rejected the farm bill in June by a vote of 234-195 after some in the GOP complained that the legislation did not cut enough from food stamps. Democrats said the 3 percent cut in food stamps was too much.
The idea is that the farm portion of the bill 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.
However, conservative groups, farm groups and nutrition groups all expressed concerns with the strategy.
Farm groups and anti-hunger groups have warned that separating the farm and nutrition programs after decades of linking them would be a major mistake. Rural lawmakers have added money for food stamps to the farm bill, which sets policy for agricultural subsidies and other farm programs, to gather urban votes for the measure.
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.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said that she believes splitting the bill would be a “major mistake.”
Spending on food stamps has doubled in the last five years to almost $80 billion a year and the number of members in both parties who make agriculture a priority has dwindled. Still, separating the two bills could create bigger problems as members may not have an incentive to vote for either piece of legislation.
In a letter to Boehner last week, more than 500 farm groups discouraged GOP leadership from splitting the legislation.
“We believe that splitting the nutrition title from the rest of the bill could result in neither farm nor nutrition programs passing, and urge you to move a unified farm bill forward,” the groups wrote.