While the House will pass their six-month stopgap budget bill today, pushing government spending authority out to March, one other September 30 deadline remains outstanding, and Congress looks prepared to let it expire. That would be the authorization for farm programs. If nothing is done, the farm programs would revert back to the policy of decades ago. Food stamp programs are a substantial part of the farm bill, but as mandatory spending they would continue to pay out at current levels, under the continuing resolution which will pass today.
This is a terrible scenario for farm-state House Republicans, who hold 73 of the top 100 farm districts in America. The farm bill always passes based on this uneasy bargain between rural-district Congresscritters wanting the farm updates and urban-district Congresscritters wanting the food stamp extensions. But food stamps were due for a small cut in this bill. So the real sufferers of any farm bill expiration are the rural Republicans. And they’re not pleased.
With farmers rallying at the Capitol Wednesday and the Senate showing no appetite for disaster aid substitutes, divisions are surfacing more among House Republicans over their leadership’s decision to block action on a five-year farm bill.
Freshman Rep. Rick Berg (R-N.D.), who has been hurt politically at home by the farm bill impasse, helped to trigger the whips’ discussion. But grayer heads—and traditional team players— backed him up including Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Randy Neugebauer (R-Tex.), as well as House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.)
“Members had been home. People know the clock’s ticking,” Cole said of the exchanges. “I believe we have a product ready to move,” he told POLITICO. “We have an opportunity to do something that is not partisan. I think we ought to do it.”
The Senate is playing hardball on this. They refuse to move a short-term disaster relief bill until the House takes action on the five-year farm bill, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow confirmed yesterday. The House wants to wait until after the election, in the hopes that they will have a better bargaining position if they do well. But that would mean the expiration of current farm programs for over a month, which will seriously damage people like Rick Berg, who represents the potential margin of victory in the Senate. He’s running in North Dakota against former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, in what has been a surprisingly close race.
Farmers held a rally yesterday on Capitol Hill, but everyone seems locked into their positions. For the Republicans, they’re actively participating in their own destruction.