Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas and ranking member Rep. Collin Peterson are optimistic that the farm bill will easily pass the committee.
Without even a committee markup, the House farm bill has caused intraparty tensions to flare up among both Democrats and Republicans, who are primarily squabbling over how much money should be allotted for food stamps.
So it is no small wonder that House leaders have been reticent to bring the bill to the floor. Nonetheless, all eyes are on what could be a marathon Agriculture Committee markup today to determine the way forward.
Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and the panel’s ranking member, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) — the two Members who negotiated the bill — expressed optimism that the legislation would easily pass the committee.
“I think we’re fine. I think we’ve got plenty of votes in the committee,” Peterson said. “The bigger problem is going to be, first of all, getting it onto the floor, getting leadership to give us time. And even then it’s going to be tough. The left won’t be satisfied, the right won’t be satisfied and there aren’t that many people in the middle anymore.”
Indeed, a House GOP leadership aide said that even a drama-free markup would not guarantee floor consideration. And this one promises to be anything but drama-free.
Committee members on both sides of the aisle said they plan to offer amendments in committee, many dealing with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the formal name for food stamps.
Lucas said his pitch to GOP Members is to save these kinds of amendments for the House floor.
“If you want to dramatically reshape entire programs, if you want to do things of [an] unimaginable bold nature, that’s probably floor work,” he said.
But, of course, there is a chance the bill never gets there. In that case, Lucas and Peterson said they are considering bypassing floor consideration and going straight to a conference with the Senate, which already passed a farm bill along bipartisan lines.
Peterson, however, noted that it is unlikely Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) would allow that. A GOP leadership aide confirmed that House leaders are not considering that option right now. Worth noting is that GOP leaders did resort to a similar course on the transportation reauthorization bill.
Another option would be to pass a short-term extension of the current farm bill and consider a long-term solution next year.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who is a member of both the Agriculture and Budget committees, said he will offer an amendment in committee that would add to the $16.5 billion in cuts to SNAP in the Lucas-Peterson bill.
That would match the more than $30 billion cut from the program in the House budget reconciliation package.
“We’ve already had the debate over food stamps. So why don’t we take the number that the House already agreed to?” asked the Kansas Republican, who is a farmer by trade. “Someone’s got to defend the House budget position in the committee,” he added.
Sixteen of the 26 Republicans on the committee are freshmen, like Huelskamp, and he said they should have more of a say in influencing the bill to the right.
Adding to the Republican pressure, a slew of conservative groups, including Heritage Action for America, Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks and Americans for Tax Reform, sent a letter to Members on Tuesday strongly opposing the bill.
Rep. Mike Conaway said that under other circumstances, he would like to cut more from the SNAP program, but to do so now would jeopardize the bill entirely.
“We don’t think we’ve got 24 GOP votes. We think we have guys on the committee, three or more, that won’t vote for anything,” the Texas Republican said. “When you don’t have the votes on your side to pass a bill, either on the floor or in the committee, then you have to have help from the other side.”
Peterson said Tuesday that he has at least 10 Democrats who confirmed they will vote for the farm bill, and that should not be a tough hurdle on a committee stacked with conservative Blue Dog Democrats.
But the bill is still rankling other Democrats. Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (S.C.) became the highest-ranking Democrat to publicly oppose the bill Tuesday, and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) indicated he is none too happy with the food stamp cuts, either.
“Mr. Hoyer has strong concerns about the impact of the cuts to food assistance to our nation’s most vulnerable citizens,” spokesman Dan Reilly said.
Rep Jim McGovern said he will offer an amendment to preserve the SNAP program at its current finding level, calling the level of cuts in the bill “unconscionable” and “immoral.”
“If that fails, I’m against the bill in committee, and I’m going to fight like hell against it on the House floor,” the Massachusetts Democrat said. Peterson “endorsed it, but I didn’t. I understand you’ve got to make deals around this place, but sometimes there are things called bad deals, and this is a bad deal.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.