May 21, 2024

Farm & Food File: GOP House hardliners again threaten farm bill

Even when Speaker of the House Mike Johnson finds enough baling wire to lash together the votes needed to pass the split, almost six-months late 2023 federal budget, it’s little more than a signal to some of his GOP colleagues to heat up the tar and gather the feathers to embarrass the Louisianan at the moment of his victory.

That might explain Johnson’s perpetual frown; even when he wins difficult votes like the two March spending bills, he’s pilloried by Republican hardliners for working with Democrats to secure passage.

Isn’t that how split government must work if — unlike under the three previous Republican speakers, John Boehner, Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy — it’s to work at all?

Not to the hardliners. Their message to the Speaker is loud, clear and threatening: Stop depending on Dems to make government — or at least this government — work.

And the hardliners are having an impact on some of their House GOP colleagues. When the initial half of the budget bill was approved in early March, 132 Repubs joined 207 Dems to give Johnson a solid 339-to-85 win, well over the two-thirds majority required by his sly “suspension of the rules” vote.

Two weeks later, however, 29 fewer GOP members voted for the second part of the split bill to leave Johnson with an onion-skin thin triumph that barely cleared the required two-thirds hurdle. The winning margin, however, was again supplied by the Democrats.

If the second vote is evidence that the Speaker is leaking power, the remainder of the legislative year promises to be an even nastier GOP brawl than 2023 when Republicans tossed out McCarthy, then threw spitballs at each other during the three-week, three-ring circus that followed.

From an ag policy perspective, any fight in the House GOP caucus guarantees continued slow, if any, action on the 2023 — now 2024 — farm bill.

But 2024 appears to be slouching toward 2025 with some ag state Republicans. Witness Iowa GOP Sen. Joni Ernst who told AgriPulse March 24 that she “sees little chance for a farm bill this calendar year, but hopes for better chances in 2025.”

Ernst didn’t complete the thought because she didn’t have to. Her “better chances in 2025″ suggest a possible Republican sweep of November’s general elections to take the House, Senate and White House.

That view is not shared by House Ag Committee Chairman Glenn Thompson. Two days before Ernst’s comment, the Pennsylvania Republican told another AgriPulse reporter that a 2024 farm bill was “becoming more realistic” and that “his team is waiting on some final analysis from the Congressional Budget Office” before moving forward with a House draft.

Moreover, Thompson sounded much more open to Democratic additions to the draft than most of his Republican partners. In fact, “He added,” noted AgriPulse, “that his team” was also “working on ‘baking’ bipartisan proposals into the legislation.”

Yes, he said it; the “B” word.

Perhaps even more remarkable was that after he let — gulp — “bipartisan” slip his lips, Thompson wasn’t vaporized by lightning, the earth didn’t open and swallow him whole and the Capitol dome didn’t crumble into dust.

House Democrats, fresh off their able assistance to pass both budget bills — the second one included an extra $1 billion to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, commonly known as WIC — are ready.

But, warned Rep. Sanford Bishop, a Georgia Democrat and the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee’s Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration Subcommittee, House Republicans can drop any plans to cut food assistance if they expect help in his committee to fund any farm bill.

That’s good advice given Speaker Johnson’s slippery hold on his increasingly mutinous majority. It also turns up the burner under Johnson’s already hot seat.

Does he want Dems to help pass a farm bill now or would he prefer to gamble on November’s election?

Alan Guebert

Alan Guebert

Farm & Food File is published weekly through the U.S. and Canada. Source material and contact information are posted at www.farmandfoodfile.com.