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House GOP Argues Over Next Steps on Farm Legislation

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Lucas said splitting the farm bill is unacceptable because each portion could not pass alone.

A week after a surprising defeat for the farm bill, some House conservatives who helped sink the legislation are trying to build momentum to split it in half, ending years of precedent for passing agriculture and nutrition legislation in one package.

Members made their case in a House Republican Conference meeting Wednesday morning, but they were rebuked by farm-district Republicans who said the group did them a disservice by voting for controversial amendments that cost the bill Democratic support and then voting against the underlying bill.

The plan would split the agriculture language of the bill from the nutrition portion, which deals with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. Many Republicans voted against the bill because they think SNAP costs too much and is subject to fraud.

Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., offered an amendment to the Rules Committee that would have split the bill (HR 1947) apart, but it was ruled out of order. After the conference, he said he had reiterated the merits of that plan to leadership.

“What’s worked in the past didn’t work. So we can sit here and moan and groan and blame each other, or we can say, ‘Alright, obviously times have changed, things are different, we’re going to find a different strategy,’” he said. “The best way forward, I think, is to separate the two and work on them separately.”

‘Unholy’ Combination?

Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., said a group of members told leadership that if the bill were split, they would vote for the agriculture portion with no problems. “I think this is our opportunity to break that unholy alliance between nutrition and agriculture that’s been perverting the system for the last 50 years,” he said.

Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., said after the meeting that splitting the bill is unacceptable because each portion could not pass alone. He said there are discussions happening at the leadership level to figure out a way forward.

“Splitting the bill just simply means not having a bill and that’s the least acceptable option. Everything else is on the table,” he said. “I’m working through scenarios with my friends.”

On Tuesday night, Lucas said that leaders have to decide whether to try to pass the bill with more Republican support or seek to bring on new Democrats. “We have a day or two to sort it out, but something has to happen,” Lucas said.

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