- The Washington Times - Monday, June 10, 2013

After punting last year on a farm bill, House Speaker John A. Boehner said Monday he will bring his chamber’s 2013 version to the floor this month — a move sure to divide his fellow Republicans.

The announcement came the same day the Senate easily passed its own farm bill — a five-year, half-trillion-dollar measure that calls for expanded government subsidies for crop insurance, rice and peanuts while making small food stamp cuts.

Last year, Mr. Boehner declined to bring a farm bill to the House floor in a move designed to avoid a nasty intraparty fight during an election year, as farm state Republicans pushed for crop subsidies while other GOP conservatives demanded widespread cuts.

But with midterm elections almost a year and half away and the Senate passing its farm bill Monday evening by a vote of 66 to 27, the Ohio Republican decided the time was right to hold debate and a possible vote on the measure.

Mr. Boehner suggested his decision also was based on “a number of positive reforms” in his chamber’s bill shepherded by House Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas, Oklahoma Republican — particularly provisions that would end direct payments to farmers and cuts in the food stamp program.

“As a longtime proponent of top-to-bottom reform, my concerns about our country’s farm programs are well known,” said Mr. Boehner in a prepared statement.

“But as I said on the day I became speaker, my job isn’t to impose my personal will on this institution or its members. Rather, it’s to ensure we have a fair process and an open debate, leading to a product that reflects the will of our majority, the will of our members and the will of those we represent.”

Farm bills usually are among the most bipartisan legislative matters on Capitol Hill, as lawmakers from agricultural states and districts — despite party — come together to ensure their success.

The most recent multiyear farm bill expired at the end of September, although programs continued through temporary funding extensions.

The House Agriculture Committee last month passed its latest farm bill with broad bipartisan support. The measure would make much larger cuts to food stamps than the Senate version in a bid to gain support from Republicans who have opposed the measure.

The Senate bill would cut the food stamp program by about $400 million a year, or half a percent. The House bill would cut the program by $2 billion a year, or a little more than 3 percent, and make it more difficult for some people to qualify.

But it’s uncertain whether the cuts will be enough to placate House conservatives. And even Mr. Boehner hinted he may not support the measure in its current form, saying he has concerns about some of the measure’s dairy provisions and “will support efforts on the House floor to change them appropriately.”

The speaker added that if House members “have ideas on how to make the bill better, [they should] bring them forward.”

Because the food stamp program — now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — makes up almost 80 percent of the bill’s cost, some conservative groups have suggested splitting off the program from the agriculture-related portion of the bill.

“The urban and rural logrolling deemed necessary to pass this bill has created an unholy bipartisan alliance that has long served to thwart fiscally responsible efforts to restrain spending and limit the growth of government,” said a group of more than a dozen conservative organizations in a letter to House members dated Monday. “Separating food stamps and considering them in an alternate piece of legislation is not only sound policy, but also good politics.”

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