House Republicans hit major obstacles Thursday in their push to pass an $868 billion farm bill as conservatives threatened to derail the legislation unless leaders agreed to hold a vote on an enforcement-heavy immigration bill.
GOP leaders said they’re willing to allow an immigration vote in the future, but said they want to approve the farm bill this week to keep their own schedule intact.
“We’re not going to stop working until we pass it,” said Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican.
Both the farm bill and the immigration fight divide the GOP — which is why conservatives believe they can use leverage in one to get concessions on the other.
In this case, Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican and chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said he has enough of his members willing to withhold support for the farm bill to sink the effort — unless they get their immigration vote.
They want to see the House take up a bill sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. The bill would crack down on sanctuary cities and those who repeatedly cross into the U.S. illegally, would speed up deportations from the border, and would continue the Obama-era DACA program by writing it into law. Currently, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is an administrative policy, and sits on shaky legal footing.
They’re trying to head off an effort by liberal Republicans and Democrats to pass a bill that would grant citizenship rights to Dreamers, without any of the border security or immigration policy changes President Trump wants.
A petition drive on the pro-Dreamer bill is close to succeeding, but if the conservatives can first secure a vote on their enforcement-heavy alternative, they hope it would scuttle those other plans.
Mr. Scalise said Republican leaders are inclined to give the conservatives their chance, even though the bill will fail.
“There’s a strong desire that even if the votes won’t be there ultimately [to] have a vote on the bill, and I think it’s important we do that, and to get a date certain,” he said.
That concession shows just how desperate GOP leaders are to get a win on the farm bill, which would reauthorize federal crop subsidies, agricultural supports and government food programs through 2023.
Powerful farm lobby groups want the extensions, but most Democrats are withholding their votes, complaining about new work requirements for food stamp recipients, even as conservatives say they wanted to see even deeper spending cuts.
Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway did manage to beat back two “poison pill” amendments Thursday he said would have derailed the bill.
One, pushed by Rep. Virginia Foxx, North Carolina Republican, would have made changes to federal rules governing the sugar industry.
The current system relies on a combination of price supports and tariffs favored by domestic sugar producers but opposed by critics who say the policies amount to corporate welfare.
Another amendment, from Rep. Tom McClintock, California Republican, would have wound down certain agriculture subsidies over the next 10 years.
Mr. Conaway had said the measures would be major shocks to a struggling U.S. farm industry, and that they could upend the entire bill by causing members in agriculture-heavy districts to bolt.
“Do we want to protect American farmers from unfair competition in the world, or do we not?” said Mr. Conaway, Texas Republican.
Democrats, meanwhile, continued to protest the new food stamp work requirements.
“Republicans should scrap this bill,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “This is ideological, about I don’t know — taking food out of the mouths of babies. That, maybe, is a priority for them.”