As lawmakers take a break over the Fourth of July holiday, more than 500 ag industry groups aren't about to let up on their push for a new five-year farm bill, calling on House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Tuesday to bring the bill back for a second vote.
The House defeated the farm bill 195-234 on June 20. Immediately, speculation and finger-pointing surfaced claiming that not only were steep cuts to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance programs a sticking point for many lawmakers, additional amendments to the bill added insult to injury.
"We've taken a bipartisan bill and made it a partisan bill," Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said on the House floor shortly after the bill's defeat. The statement was part of a larger exchange with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who blamed Democrats for voting down the bill.
Questioning the ability of the House to work in a bipartisan manner on the bill has been the sentiment of many other lawmakers looking to get something – anything, even – done before the Sept. 30 expiration of last year's 2008 Farm Bill extension.
Due to the Senate's relatively quick agreement on their version of the bill, some lawmakers are pushing to bring that version into the House. Last week, that was the proposition of Illinois Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos, who said the Senate bill "may not be perfect, but Senate Democrats and Republicans were able to come together to get a bill passed, and the House should do the same."
Splitting the bill?
Aside from passing the Senate version or bringing the bill back up, rumblings of splitting the bill into two pieces – one portion for nutrition assistance and the other for farm programs – haven't been well-received by ag committee leadership and clearly not by the more than 500 farm groups that signed on to Tuesday's letter.
"Farm bills represent a delicate balance between America’s farm, nutrition, conservation, and other priorities, and accordingly require strong bipartisan support," the letter noted. "We believe that splitting the nutrition title from the rest of the bill could result in neither farm nor nutrition programs passing, and urge you to move a unified farm bill forward."
The National Farmers Union previously came out in opposition to splitting the bill last week, saying such a move would be a potentially "jarring disruption to the historic coalition of urban, rural and conservation groups."
But the benefits of having a combined bill come back to politics, noted Cornell University professor Andrew Novakovic.
"The thing that we understood going back 40 years, that putting these two sometimes competing but in many ways complimentary interests together really strengthens the politics of passing a combined bit of legislation," he said.
Proponents of separating the bill have their reasons, however. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., said separate consideration of the bill would allow the House to "move ahead with real solutions and reform instead of repeating the mistakes of the past."
Earlier in June, Stutzman filed amendments with the House Rules Committee to split the Farm Bill into separate bills on farm policy and food stamp policy. The amendments were not made in order by the Committee.
As debate about the way forward rages on, time is running out. Several priority issues, such as immigration reform and student loans, have yet to be considered in the House, leaving little time to address a bill that has already taken up two days' worth of time.
"If the planets all lined up and everybody agreed to agree, we could get this (farm bill) done by the end of September," added Novokovic, "but the chances of those planets lining up are just zero."
House lawmakers will return to Washington, D.C. July 8, though summer recess kicks off Aug. 3 and continues into the first week of September.
Read more on the 2013 House Farm Bill
House Dems Introduce Senate Farm Bill
Ag Interests React To House Defeat of Farm Bill
House Rejects Farm Bill 195-234
House Works To Hammer Farm Bill Home
House Rules Committee Preps Farm Bill
House Ag Committee Passes 2013 Farm Bill
House Releases Farm Bill Draft