The question now is: where do we go from here on a new farm bill? It is hard to imagine the speaker bringing any package to the floor that would require Democratic help to pass. A simple extension of current law (as was done last year) would keep direct payments in place and shield food stamps from all cuts, thus denying Republicans any gains on that front. Letting the current farm bill expire also would sacrifice food stamp savings. More problematic would be the huge economic dislocations that would flow from a return to underlying permanent law.
Faced with these options, cooler heads may conclude that the only way forward is to add more food stamp cuts and a healthy dose of regulatory relief (targeted, for instance, on EPA surveillance of farmers) to the bill that was defeated in the House, pass it with only Republican votes and go to conference with the Senate, keeping all appendages crossed that whatever emerges will make it to the president’s desk for his signature.
Such an undertaking is a tall order. It would require creativity, a delicate sense of balance, some cajoling of recalcitrant members and a willingness to accept half a loaf rather than no loaf at all, things that have been lacking in the Republican caucus. But the reward would be a measure that might force Senate conferees — and ultimately the president — to give up more than they would otherwise. That prospect must have some appeal to all House Republicans.
Burleigh C.W. Leonard is a former senior staff member for the Senate Agriculture Committee and former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan for food and agriculture and currently a senior consultant on agriculture issues with Prime Policy Group in Washington, D.C.