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GOP tries to split farm bill

U.S. House Republicans want to remove food stamps from a farm bill, then pass the previously defeated agriculture funding legislation on its own.

The effort that surfaced Tuesday comes against advice from farm-state politicians of both parties and more than 500 farm-related groups.

“This is lunacy, what is going on here,” said Collin Peterson, a western Minnesota congressman and top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee.

Nutrition programs such as food stamps have been married to farm funding legislation such as crop insurance since 1977 to draw support from rural lawmakers for food stamps and urban lawmakers for farm programs.

Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has said that she cannot accept a farm bill without food stamp legislation.

Peterson doubts Republicans who control the House can produce enough votes to pass a farm bill.

The most conservative Republicans oppose many of the government-funded farm programs and if they get their way, they could kill the farm bill, Peterson said. “You have a bunch of these screwballs out there.”

Washington media reported Tuesday that Republican congressmen met behind closed doors, with leaders saying they want to bring the farm bill back to the full House after it was defeated last month.

Talk since the June 20 defeat has been that the nutrition and farm portions of the bill would be handled separately. More than 500 groups wrote to members of Congress opposing the action, and a trio of governors repeated that advice Tuesday.

“The farm bill is too important for the nation, agriculture and conservation to allow it to be run off track by Washington politics,” the governors of North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota wrote to House leaders.

Added Mark Dayton of Minnesota, Jack Dalrymple of North Dakota and Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota: “The bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee included a number of positive steps for farmers and ranchers, including risk management and food security measures. Lawmakers also took into consideration the nation’s fiscal constraints by incorporating measured spending cuts that will not be realized if House members were to only approve a continuation of current farm policy.”

Dayton is a Democrat, the other two Republicans.

Roger Johnson, a former North Dakota agriculture commissioner and current National Farmers Union president, said that splitting the bill is bad for farmers and consumers.

“The bill needs to remain intact, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s efforts to provide safety net programs for both farmers and consumers facing hard times should not be pulled in opposite directions,” Johnson said.

Peterson said that if one Republican amendment added during the June 20 debate were removed, the combined farm and nutrition bill could pass. He said he told GOP leaders that minutes after the farm bill vote.

The amendment, promoted by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., could reduce the number of people receiving food stamps.

Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., got into trouble from the conservative wing of his party during the July 4 break because he supports bigger food stamp funding and farm programs than other Republicans. The Tulsa World reports that he was threatened with a “real Republican” challenger in a re-election bid.

Meanwhile, fellow Democrats criticized Peterson for accepting a Republican proposal to cut more than $20 million out of food stamps in the next 10 years.

If the farm part of the bill does pass, Peterson said, Republicans likely would vote to trim food stamps even more in a later bill. That would not be acceptable to the Senate, he added.

House Democrats oppose the split.

“I completely reject this Republican move to play political games with the livelihoods of U.S. farmers and the lives of hungry Americans,” U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said. “It is time for the House to take up and pass the bipartisan Senate farm bill.”

The Hill newspaper reported that Lucas would consider splitting the bill.

"I am open to thinking outside the box,” he said. “Splitting the farm bill would certainly be thinking outside the box. We've got to get a farm bill done."

Peterson said that without a quick compromise, no farm bill may pass “in the foreseeable future.”

“I don’t see a successful strategy to get to a successful outcome,” he said. “It is like they are trying to not do a farm bill.”

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.