House Speaker John Boehner (R, OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R, VA) politically poked Democrats in the eye twice this week, once when Cantor won by the narrowest margin (217-210) a full House vote on his stand-alone nutrition bill seeking to cut food stamps by $39 billion over 10 years, and again when Boehner won on an almost pure party line vote (230-189) approval of a continuing resolution to keep the federal government operating past September 30, but withholding all federal spending to implement the Affordable Care Act.
While I’m tempted to go off on why both efforts are more symbolic than substantive, and ask the less-than-rhetorical question as to why House Republicans insist on spending massive amounts of time, manpower and political capital on legislation that allows for lots of media chest thumping and ultimately helps no one, or how I’m tired of hearing smart members in both chambers say “I’m a good party guy so I’m just go along,” I’m going to spare you that rant. Instead, we’re going to look at what this all means for getting a 2013 Farm Bill actually signed by the President in 2013.
So bizarre and convoluted has the House process been, I have to admit I agree wholeheartedly with House Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R, OK) when he said post-food stamp vote, “Everything seems hard these days…let’s just get to conference.” This is Senate ag committee Chair Debbie Stabenow’s (D, MI) fervent hope as well, though she is more politic in her statements.
Poor Lucas. He’s had to floor manage his first Farm Bill and watch it go down in flames because of political miscalculation by his own party leadership. His second Farm Bill gets stripped of the nutrition title, and then, because the nutrition programs fall within his committee’s jurisdiction, he had to floor manage that monster, as well. Now he will take both the House-passed Farm Bill and the just-approved nutrition bill to the Rules Committee to have the two merged into a single bill, referred to by a colleague this morning as the legislative equivalent of castrating bulls and implanting growth hormones. Once the rules panel blesses the merged legislation, the rule has to be defended on the House floor again. All of this is supposed to happen next week.
Meanwhile, the stand-alone nutrition bill will be formally transmitted all by itself to the Senate. Nothing will happen to it save for all of the nasty comments that will be made the day it arrives.
When the House bill, with its reinserted “nutrition title,” arrives in the Senate, the Senate must again formally request a conference with the House. Why, you ask, if it’s already begged for a conference, must it ask again? Because the original House-passed nutrition-deficit Farm Bill on which the Senate requested conference is now just a memory; the new reconstituted Farm Bill starts the procedural process all over again.
Speaker Boehner says he’s been advised Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) must rename his conferees at the same time he asks for a conference committee. At that time, Boehner says, he’ll name House conferees, adding “the sooner the better.”
The earliest we’re likely hear from Boehner’s office about which House members – and Boehner’s hinted the House conferees may include non-ag committee members — will sit in a small room with a frustrated group of Senators and hash out Farm Bill differences is the end of next week. The end of next week is Friday, September 27, with September 30 dawning the following Monday. That’s the day the current extension of the 2008 Farm Bill expires. Conference committee action will take weeks. Will we get a short-term extension or a return to yesteryear and 1949 “permanent law?”
I’ll worry about it October 1.
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