Does the House have what it takes to pass a bipartisan vote that has meaning in farm country? We hopefully will soon find out.
The House has been able to pass legislation to repeal Obama's health care law 37 times, but the issue of farm and nutrition policy has deeply divided both caucuses.
There's been plenty of role playing from both sides of the aisle over the past year as to whether the Republican leadership wanted a farm bill to be on display on the House floor through an open and transparent process, whether there were the votes on both sides of the aisle to support the bill, and lately increased criticism to the unholy alliance seen by pairing nutrition funding which accounts for 80% of the bill with farm policy.
Last year House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, received his share of criticism that he did not bring a farm bill to the House floor for a vote. During a press conference June 12 he acknowledged that he and many in the Republican Party have concerns with the farm bill, but he would vote for the farm bill.
Boehner said despite his reservations about the bill, doing nothing means no changes in farm programs or nutrition spending will come. "I'm going to vote for the farm bill to make sure the good work of the Agriculture Committee, and whatever the floor might do to improve this bill, gets to conference so we can get the changes people want in our nutrition programs and our farm programs," Boehner told reporters.
Dan Holler, communications director for Heritage Action for America, said whip counts are always fluctuating, but ahead of Boehner's promise to vote for a bill an estimated 150 Republicans were committed to voting in favor of a bill. Holler said he was surprised Boehner came out in support of the bill as early as he did, which shows he's "clearly concerned about where the votes are."
Some see only 30 Democrats could vote for the bill, which puts passage on rough terrain with many Republicans targeted by conservative groups or concerned themselves over the spending levels.
Mary Kay Thatcher, director of Congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said it's hard to determine vote outcomes when the final product could look very different than passed out of committee.
Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., a fourth generation farmer, and advocate of separating out the nutrition title and farm programs, said he's actually undecided as he's waiting to see the outcome of potential multiple amendments including reforms to the sugar and dairy programs and nutrition cuts.
Boehner's comments imply he's hoping for a change to the dairy program he greatly opposes through the amendment process.
Thatcher noted that she expects the House Rules Committee to limit amendments somewhat on the farm bill, but because the bill hasn't been officially filed, no one can draft amendments yet to the bill. Thatcher expects debate and votes could come as soon as June 19 and 20, with the body out of session June 21 and June 24.
Nutrition funding and the dairy program look to be the major sticking points on the House side, although there are increased calls for an amendment to separate the nutrition title and ag portion to vote on each separately.
The inclusion of target price supports allowed Southern senators to get on board with supporting this year's Senate version, however it forced several Midwest senators to vote no on the bill. This includes last year's ag committee ranking member. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., voted no during committee and during this year's cloture vote because of what he says is a step back in farm program reforms and could set up the United States for additional world trade challenges.
During House debate, it is expected Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, will introduce an amendment that would address concerns expressed by corn, soybean, sunflower and canola growers by setting reference prices at a percentage of recent average market prices, which do not exceed production costs. The Gibbs amendment would also provide for payments on historical crop acreage bases rather than on current-year plantings and offer $10 billion in savings.
There's only one "poison pill" that could shut down the show completely – inclusion of the egg bill that would regulate egg production standards. Thatcher said Farm Bureau, pork and beef interests have notified legislators they would oppose the bill if it is in the final package.