Grassley: split bill unlikely
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) likes the concept of splitting nutrition spending from the rest of the farm bill. He voted for that approach in the Senate last year.
But Wednesday he said that route to getting a farm bill through Congress remains difficult.
"I'm not really convinced we can pass separate bills," he told reporters in a press conference.
Like many in agriculture, Grassley sees a public relations benefit for pulling components of the five-year farm law apart.
"As I see it, the split would be positive for the agricultural side," he said. "People don't understand that 80% of the farm bill goes to food stamps."
But in the House of Representatives, where a split farm bill is being reconsidered as one way to bring up legislation that was defeated on June 20, Grassley sees obstacles. The agricultural part of the farm bill might be hard to pass "where it's so controlled by the urban areas," he said.
And in the Senate, he doesn't see a majority backing separate legislation with a farm bill already passed there. Both the Senate and House will need to reconcile differences in their farm bill legislation with a conference committee that will create a final bill to be voted on again by both chambers.
"Two separate House bills, I believe, would come to the same conference as the Senate bill," Grassley said. "I think we end up where we are in the Senate right now, with the two bills put together."
Grassley said that members of the House haven't coalesced around one approach to reconsidering a farm bill. The most likely route would be to vote "on a reworked bill," he said.
Grassley said he still supports not extending the 2008 farm bill a second time for 2014, a position taken by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
"I won't say I'll hold out forever, but right now I'm going to back Reid and Stabenow," he said.
Grassley said that at his most recent 11 town meetings in Iowa, the farm bill has come up at the majority of them. Most of the time his audience wants to know more about the fate of the bill, he said. The idea of splitting the bill hasn't come up at every session, he said, but when it does, it has support. "They get tired of farmers being blamed for 100% of the farm bill when they only get 20% of it," Grassley said. And even that 20% doesn't all go directly to farmers.