GOP May Cross the Aisle for Aid Again

Posted July 30, 2012 at 6:35pm

With their Conference deeply divided, House Republicans may have to go to the Democratic well again this week, this time for votes on a short-term farm bill extension that would offer critical relief to drought-stricken ranchers.

Republicans have had to rely on Democrats to help pass measures this Congress, but Democrats are leery of aiding Republicans in their uphill climb this time, with Chief Deputy Minority Whip Joe Crowley telling reporters on a Monday conference call that they have yet to decide their stance on the bill.

“I do think there’s always concern that we’re here trying to carry the water for Republicans when they can’t get a bill passed,” the New York Democrat said. “They don’t want to pass anything in any way, shape or form that will benefit our party right before the election.”

A one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill with drought relief provisions for livestock producers is expected on the House floor Wednesday, but it remains unclear whether House leaders have enough votes to pass the measure.

With 40 percent of the country classified as in a state of disaster, however, this could be the only way House leaders agree to bring the relief measure to the floor.

Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) spent the weekend and Monday on the telephone with Members to round up support, including a Saturday call to Agriculture ranking member Collin
Peterson (D-Minn.).

According to staff accounts of the call, Peterson told McCarthy that he is still pushing for the House to take up the five-year bill that he and Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) passed through the panel earlier this month. He said he doesn’t think Republicans have the votes to pass the short-term measure and they did not consult Democrats in writing it.

“It’s just mystifying to me why these guys can’t take yes for an answer. We got a bipartisan bill, we’re doing things the way we’re supposed to do it and then they come up with this extension, which they never even talked to us about,” he told the North Dakota-based Red River Farm Network in a Monday radio interview.

Peterson has said he will not support the one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill unless it is a means to conference with the Senate-passed five-year measure.

The trouble for Republicans is that many of their Members refuse to vote for the measure because they think leadership wants to bring the measure into conference, like they did with the transportation reauthorization bill, and produce a final measure heavily skewed toward the Senate-passed version. Others prefer to vote on the committee-passed bill, though Lucas has given his support to the temporary extension.

Republicans face heavy pressure from conservative groups such as Heritage Action for America and the Club for Growth, whose president, Chris Chocola, released a statement Monday calling on GOP leaders to promise they will not conference the extension.

GOP leadership aides said the bill is not meant to be a means to conference. But doing so would achieve the GOP leaders’ short-term political goal of avoiding a vitriolic floor fight with their own Members about sensitive issues such as food stamps less than 100 days before the elections.

They will put that off for the time being, as the Rules Committee plans to vote this evening on a closed rule on the farm bill extension, according to a GOP aide. That would shut out conservatives who want to cut more funding from food stamps.

Still, if indeed the short-term bill is not meant to be conferenced, some Republican members of the Agriculture Committee do not know it yet. Reps. Steve King (Iowa) and Bob Gibbs (Ohio), both of whom supported the committee bill and represent drought-ravaged and agriculture-heavy states, told local news outlets that they think the extension will be used to hash out a final deal with the Senate.

Gibbs, a freshman, told the Ohio Farm Bureau Radio News Service that he would support the tactic, while King told Agri-Pulse Communications in a recorded interview that doing so would weaken the House’s position.

Still, if there is anything working in the GOP’s favor in terms of passing this bill, it is the severity of the drought. Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) told reporters in a conference call Monday that although he’s undecided on the short-term extension, “clearly when it comes to disaster relief, some action has to be taken.”

Rep. Marcy Kaptur echoed that sentiment on a separate conference call, though she said she has yet to review the specifics of the bill.

“If it’s basically current law extended for a year, I would have to say it’s better than nothing, and I would likely vote for it,” the Ohio Democrat said. “I’m probably leaning for something because we know we’re going to need crop insurance out here.”