WASHINGTON — Republican leaders might commit “political malpractice” if they separate food stamps from farm policy to move the critical legislation through the House, Rep. Tom Cole said Friday.
“Count me as skeptical of that strategy,” said Cole, R-Moore.
House Republican leaders have been trying to devise a way of securing passage of the farm bill after its surprising defeat on June 20. Most Democrats refused to support the legislation because of cuts to the food stamp program, and 62 Republicans opposed the bill because it didn't cut spending enough.
Farm programs are set to expire in September, and Cole said in an interview that renewing them has to be a priority for Congress in July since lawmakers are in recess for most of August.
“This is something Congress has to do,” Cole said, warning that consumer prices for food would rise in the absence of a new bill because of an outdated law that would be triggered.
For more than 40 years, the food stamp program has been packaged with farm policy to attract urban and rural voters, but that traditional coalition collapsed in the House this month, largely because of $20 billion in cuts to food stamps and an amendment — added at the eleventh hour — to allow states to require food stamp recipients to seek work.
Outside conservative and taxpayer-watchdog groups have been calling on House Republicans to debate food stamps and farm subsidies separately. And House Republican leaders reportedly have that strategy under consideration.
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said in a radio interview in Oklahoma on Wednesday that he didn't favor separating food stamps from farm programs.
Few Republicans likely would vote for a food stamp bill, Lucas told the Oklahoma Farm Report, and many urban lawmakers “only tolerate farm policy because it's attached to the social nutrition programs.”
“I don't think you can pass a farm bill without some incentive for our friends who live outside rural America to vote with us,” Lucas said on the show.
Cole said that separating the two components would be a high-risk move, particularly since both parts likely would be shaped to satisfy the most conservative wing of the House Republican conference. Even if they passed the House, he said, they ultimately would have to be reconciled with the farm bill passed by the Senate, where Democrats are in the majority and object to major cuts to food stamps.
Cole said House GOP leaders should defer to Lucas on strategy because of the Oklahoman's expertise in agriculture and the House politics of farm bills.
Lucas told the Oklahoma Farm Report that other options for passing the bill are under consideration and that he would work as quickly as possible to find an approach that would secure a majority of the House.