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Cantor Eyes Splitting Farm Bill

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is looking at splitting food stamps and farm programs in an effort to unite Republicans to pass a farm bill so leadership doesn’t have to count on Democratic votes.

“Cantor believes the best path now is to move forward with a bill that has 218 Republican votes since Democrats proved they cannot be trusted to work in good faith, and that path may be splitting up the bill,” a GOP aide told CQ Roll Call on Thursday morning.

Conservative lawmakers and outside advocacy groups — who want much deeper spending cuts — have from the beginning pushed to split the farm bill from its traditional inclusion of both food aid for the poor and aid for farm programs.

The stunning defeat of the farm bill last week shocked GOP leaders and sparked a poisonous round of partisan finger-pointing, with Republicans blaming Democrats for bailing on the package in the final moments and Democrats blaming Republican leaders for allowing poison pill amendments to pass with the votes of conservatives who ultimately voted against the bill.

But some Republicans wanted far deeper cuts to food stamps, formally the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, than the $20.5 billion reduction over a decade included in the bill.

If SNAP was dealt with in a separate bill, Republicans argue, they would not hold crucial farm programs hostage. The short-term extension passed last year to keep certain programs afloat expires at the end of September, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has vowed not to cooperate with any additional short-term extensions if a final package cannot be agreed to before then.

But as our colleague Daniel Newhauser has reported, not all Republicans like this idea: 

Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., said … that splitting the bill is unacceptable because each portion could not pass alone. He said there are discussions happening at the leadership level to figure out a way forward.

“Splitting the bill just simply means not having a bill and that’s the least acceptable option. Everything else is on the table,” he said. “I’m working through scenarios with my friends.”

Meanwhile, at his Thursday morning press conference, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said only that there have been “a lot of conversations about the farm bill” but “there has been no decision.”

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