WASHINGTON Republican leaders hoping to recover from an embarrassing defeat on the House floor last month are preparing to split a massive farm bill in two and put it up for a vote as early as Thursday.
The GOP House leadership released a smaller version of the five-year bill late Wednesday, dropping a politically sensitive section of the legislation that would have made small cuts to the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program. Republicans are divided on how big cuts should be to food stamps, which have doubled in cost in the last five years. Democrats have opposed any cuts.
Republicans have been counting votes for the bill containing only the farm programs over the last two days, with a food stamp bill to come at a later date. Farm groups, anti-hunger groups and conservative groups have all opposed the idea, for different reasons.
The split bill is an attempt to gather support from conservatives who voted against the $100 billion-a-year farm bill. The House rejected the farm bill in June by a vote of 234-195, with 62 Republicans voting against it. Many of those GOP critics said the bill's 3 percent cut in food stamps was not enough.
The idea is that the farm portion of the bill, which contains about $2 billion a year in cuts to farm subsidies, could pass without the food stamp provisions. By splitting the two, Republicans might be able to make bigger cuts in food stamp programs and pass that bill with conservative support.
Farm groups and anti-hunger groups have warned that separating the farm and nutrition programs after decades of linking them would be misguided. Rural lawmakers have long added money for food stamps to the farm bill, which sets policy for agricultural subsidies and other farm programs, to gather urban votes for the measure.
In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, last week, more than 500 farm groups asked the GOP leadership not to split the legislation.
The Democratic-led Senate, which overwhelmingly passed a farm bill with smaller cuts to food stamps, would be reluctant to go along with a split bill or further cuts to the programs.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said splitting the bill would be a "major mistake."
Conservative groups have also campaigned against the strategy. Andy Roth of the Club for Growth sent a letter to members Wednesday saying the new bill would merely end up "leaving us back where we started."