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Deadline Nears for House Attempt to Revive Farm Bill

The electoral circuitry to revive the Republican-written House farm bill this week looks like the mechanism of a Rube Goldberg machine. Republican leaders plan floor votes on two immigration bills, neither certain of passage, to generate support among hardline conservatives for the farm bill. A close vote is expected, just like the roll call that sank the bill a month ago.

The farm bill may be the only chance for House Republicans to achieve their goal of welfare reform this year. Their bill would require 7 million or more “work capable” adults ages 18-59 to work at least 20 hours a week or spend equivalent time in job training or workfare to qualify for food stamps. At the same time, the bill would loosen farm subsidy rules by making cousins, nieces, and nephews eligible for subsidies and remove payment limits on some types of corporate farms.

House Agriculture Chairman Michael Conaway expects a close vote, said Pro Farmer analyst Jim Wiesemeyer. Thirty Republicans — half of them from the conservative Freedom Caucus — joined a solid block of Democrats to defeat the farm bill, 193-213, on May 18. The conservatives used the farm bill as leverage to get a vote on immigration controls. Speaking on the AgriTalk program on Monday, Wiesemeyer said, “Not all of them [conservatives]” were certain to back the farm bill this time. “You just can’t count on them.”

Under a resolution passed last month, Republican leaders have until Friday to revive the legislation.

Some small-goverment think tanks, fiscal hawks, and good-government groups say the agricultural side of the farm bill smacks of crony capitalism and needs reform. SNAP accounts for three fourths of farm bill spending. Democrats say the GOP’s proposals will push 2 million people out of SNAP, between tighter eligibility standards and a paperwork web to prove compliance with the 20-hour rule.

When the farm bill was seconds from being declared dead, Speaker Paul Ryan asked for reconsideration of the vote, a little-used parliamentary procedure to overturn a decision. “Its purpose is to allow the House time to reflect on the wisdom of its action on the proposition,” says a guidebook. Passage of a motion to reconsider requires a majority, which ordinarily would guarantee passage of the underlying bill. There would be little point for a lawmaker to vote for reconsideration and then vote against the legislation.

House Republican leaders decided weeks ago to line up votes on immigration ahead of a vote on reviving the farm bill. One of the immigration bills includes the punitive farmworker program sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte. It creates a year-round H-2C agricultural guest worker visa, available for the first time to meatpackers, dairies, and the timber industry. Undocumented farm workers already in the country could achieve legal status by registering in the H-2C program, by leaving the U.S. and applying for reentry. Those steps are not appealing to workers with spouses or other U.S. roots, say opponents.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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