Could the time actually be ripe to end the perennial pairing of the federal food stamp program together with U.S. agricultural “policy” (hem, hem) into a single “farm bill,” and thereby break up the perverse urban-rural synergy that usually ensures the bill’s passage and deliberately obfuscates its many moving parts? On Monday night, National Review reported that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor got pretty frank about his perturbation with GOP chairmen over the unexpected and epic fail of the House farm-bill proposal in June; nevertheless, Roll Call reports today, House leadership has been moving forward with their plan to whip-count the possible separation of the ever-expanding food stamp program and the agribusiness lobby’s corporate-pork menu into two (relatively) standalone pieces of legislation. Even more surprising, the House Agriculture Chairman says there’s at least a possibility he could be okay with it:
House Republican leaders have decided to drop food stamps from the farm bill and are whipping the farm-only portion of the bill for a vote that will likely come this week, according to a GOP leadership aide. …
Rory Cooper, a spokesman for Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said leadership has not yet decided to schedule a vote.
“There has been no decision made to schedule a vote on a farm bill, in any form,” he said in a statement to CQ Roll Call.
House Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas said Tuesday morning that he would support splitting the farm bill — as long as it can pass the House.
“I’m willing to do what it takes to get a farm bill done,” Lucas said as he exited a Republican Conference meeting Tuesday morning. “If that means doing it unconventionally, maybe we got to give it a try.”
Asked whether it was fair to say he supports splitting the farm bill, the Oklahoma Republican replied: “It’s fair to say that Chairman Lucas is at a point where he has got to look outside the box, and splitting the farm bill is certainly outside the traditional box.”
That’s some progress, I suppose, but I’ll admit I’m not getting too excited, because I don’t know that splitting the two up will get either of them done. Too many Republicans manage to sum up excuses to suddenly justify cash payouts, subsidies, and big-government market interference against which they so often rage when its their rural districts that stand to get the leg up, and I wouldn’t think stripping away the ballooning food stamp program from what is essentially a love note to the agribusiness lobby will make that any less awkward. We shall see.
Update: A few more details from Politico, a little more negative in tone:
In a members-only meeting of Republicans, senior lawmakers on the Agriculture panel continued to express reservations to the Oklahoman. Early soundings by the House whip organization Tuesday afternoon indicated that the leadership still had an uphill climb to get to 218 Republican votes.
Lucas may have anticipated this when he told POLITICO after his committee meeting: “If there are not 218 votes, if there is no assurance of success, why try the effort.” …
Of the two bill strategy — which he had resisted when first promoted by Cantor — Lucas told POLITICO, “It’s contrary to the conventional wisdom since at least 1965 so that’s outside the box… We’re at a point in time where we have to think outside the box. I have to pass a farm bill. Whatever combination of events gets us ultimately to that farm bill is worth trying.”