House: Lawmakers or role-players?

IN 2012, there was never a final curtain call for the House farm bill, but this week, we'll see whether the House is a legislative body or theater stage.

The House was able to pass legislation to repeal the President's health care law 37 times, but the issue of farm and nutrition policy has deeply divided both caucuses.

There has been plenty of role-playing from both sides of the aisle over the past year as to whether the Republican leadership wanted the farm bill to be on display on the House floor through an open and transparent process, whether there were enough votes to support the bill and, lately, increased criticism of the "unholy alliance" of pairing nutrition funding — which accounts for 80% of the bill — with farm policy.

Last year, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R., Ohio) received his share of poor reviews for not bringing a farm bill to the House floor for a vote. During a press conference June 12, he acknowledged that he and many Republicans have concerns with the farm bill but said he would vote for the bill.

Boehner explained that, despite his reservations about the bill, doing nothing means there will be no changes in farm programs or nutrition spending.

"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.

Heritage Action for America communications director Dan Holler said whip counts always fluctuate, but ahead of Boehner's promise to vote for the bill, an estimated 150 Republicans were in favor of a bill. Holler said he was surprised that Boehner came out in support of the bill as early as he did, which shows that he's "clearly concerned about where the votes are."

Some believe only 30 Democrats will vote for the bill, which puts passage on rough terrain since many Republicans have been targeted by conservative groups or are, themselves, concerned about 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 from what is passed out of committee.

Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R., Ind.), an advocate of separating the nutrition title and farm programs, said he's actually undecided and is waiting to see the outcome of multiple potential amendments, including reforms to the sugar and dairy programs and cuts to nutrition programs. Boehner's comments imply that he's hoping for a change to the dairy program (which he greatly opposes) through the amendment process.

Midwestern senators are upset over the target price components included in the Senate farm bill, and the House may have amendments to address the issue.

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 that they will oppose the bill if it is in the final package.

Volume:85 Issue:24

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