A senior Agriculture Committee member, K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said he favors seeking more Republican support for the bill than trying to win over Democrats. Some Democrats will support the bill in the end so it could still be considered bipartisan, he said. “At the end of the day, we’ll have a bipartisan bill,” said Conaway, adding that “it is not time” for the bill’s backers “to panic.”
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who is a proponent of the bill, told the conference that splitting it would make it more difficult to enact the kinds of cuts to the nutrition assistance programs that Republicans want.
“For some people it was a pretty simple thing to say, ‘I don’t support any subsidy,’” he said. “They don’t go on to the next piece of the equation, which is voting ‘No’ on the farm bill supports a lot of subsidy because we reformed a lot of subsidy [in the bill]. That realization, I think, will start to settle in better.”
Other Republicans, however, are unhappy at the prospect of returning to their districts empty-handed, and are in part blaming their colleagues. More than 50 Republicans voted for Florida Republican Steve Southerland II’s successful amendment to permit states to set up pilot projects tying food assistance to work requirements but against the bill. Democrats objected to the Southerland plan and said its adoption prompted them to vote against the bill on final passage.
Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., told the conference that those members who voted for controversial amendments but against the bill had hung agriculture-district Republicans like himself out to dry because there could be political ramifications to the farm bill’s failure.
Cramer said after the meeting that his critique extended to other amendments, like the one Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., successfully offered to revamp the federal dairy program. Goodlatte still voted against the bill.
“I’m very frustrated that we had chairmen — and others, frankly, but especially chairmen — who offer amendments, pass amendments and then vote against the bill. I think that lacks integrity, that lacks legislative integrity,” Cramer said. “We don’t have a recognition by some people in the conference that our majority isn’t big enough to have purity. ... To bypass a real reform opportunity for lack of purity really lets the Democrats control the agenda, that was really my point.”
One potential solution could be to split off Southerland’s amendment and pass it as a stand-alone bill alongside the farm bill, where it would not affect the actual text of the legislation. But leadership is reluctant to do so because the move could be perceived as kow-towing to Democrats. There is also skepticism that adjusting the strategy would gain any more Democratic votes.
Southerland said he and other Republicans believe that Democrats were not truthful in saying they would have supported the bill if not for the amendment. Instead, he thinks Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., believes their interests are better served with a temporary extension.
“I’m not of the opinion that that had anything to do with it. I have my suspicions that obviously the Dems wanted Nancy Pelosi’s bill to stay in place,” he said.