House Republicans seek to split nutrition program from farm bill

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In a move that would sever the long-standing urban-rural bipartisan alliance backing agriculture policy, House Republicans are planning to split the nutrition programs — including food stamps and school meals — from farm programs in hopes of passing a farm bill this summer.

Action could occur as early as July 10, Capitol Hill sources said.

Farm lobbyists did not want to see the farm bill split, but Dale Moore, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based American Farm Bureau Federation, said House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and House Republican leaders have chosen that path.

Moore said July 9 that all the details of the strategy are not known, but the Farm Bureau believes House Republicans will take the bill as it was presented for a vote on June 20, strike the nutrition title and take it to the floor for a vote. The June vote failed.

“We have heard talk of some language that may be inserted dealing with repeal, replacement or modification of permanent law,” Moore said.

Moore said no other amendments would be allowed to be considered.

“From what we understand, it will be an up or down vote on HR 1947, minus the nutrition title and possibly with something dealing with permanent law,” he said.

Permanent law is the hammer, Moore said, to get the farm bill passed every five years. When the current farm bill expires Sept. 30, for example, parts of farm program law would revert back to what existed in 1949 and 1938. That would cause a big increase in farm program expenditures that would be unacceptable to Congress, Moore said.

He said there are uncertainties about what would happen if the House passes a farm bill without the nutrition title when the Senate has already passed a bill that included the nutrition title.

“If the Senate says we are not going to conference the bill in two different pieces (farm/nutrition), then does the House appoint conferees and go to work on that?” Moore said.

Another possibility would be if the Senate simply adds the nutrition title back in and sends it back to the House, he said.

“Right now the game in front of us is trying to determine what comes next,” Moore said.

One Washington source, speaking on background, said that some commodity groups are resisting the move to repeal the 1949 permanent law language. Other groups are willing to concede the repeal of permanent law language in order to get the farm bill into conference with the Senate version.

House Republicans will have to find the votes to pass the bill, said Kam Quarles, director of legislative affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based McDermott Will & Emery law firm. Even with the nutrition title split from the farm bill, some conservatives are likely to oppose some farm programs. That could make the math to get to the 218 vote necessary for passage difficult, Quarles said.

After four decades of combining nutrition programs and farm programs, Quarles said it is challenging to break the connection and still find votes to pass the farm bill.

“It’s not impossible, but it sure makes it hard,” he said.

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