Splitting up the farm bill into two pieces won’t be enough to appease the Club for Growth, one of the conservative interest groups that claimed credit for the farm bill’s surprise defeat on the House floor last month.
“Splitting up the Farm Bill is a good first step, but just splitting a bad bill into two pieces doesn’t suddenly make either piece better,” said Barney Keller, a spokesman for the Club for Growth, in an email statement to CQ Roll Call on Monday afternoon. “Instead, Republicans should put farm subsidies on a path to elimination and devolve food stamps to the states, where they belong.”
Without substantial changes to each bill, the Club would continue opposing them.
“The Club for Growth would certainly Key Vote against both the farm subsidies and food stamp program if they were considered separately,” Keller continued.
Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action, would not say whether his group would issue key votes on the split titles, should House Republican leaders choose to go that route.
He did, however, suggest that the current product would not pass muster in any iteration.
“Obviously we’d be opposed to anything remotely close to the previous [bill] no matter how they split it up,” Holler said. “Splitting it is a means toward an end, but not an end itself. If you take a step and change some process, make sure you’re changing it to get good policy, not pull wool over the eyes of the people on the outside.”
Leadership is warming to the idea of splitting the bill. But the problem for GOP leaders is if they drop food stamps from the farm bill, they will almost certainly lose Democratic votes and may have trouble picking up enough Republican votes in return without the groups’ blessing.
Though Republican leaders blamed Democrats for not delivering the number of votes they had promised, GOP lawmakers have conceded that the Club for Growth and Heritage Action were instrumental in compelling members of the conference to vote “no.”
At the end of last week, Republican leadership aides said no decisions had been made as to how to move the farm bill forward, with Keller concerned the idea was just a tactic to get a bill through the House.
“We are very skeptical of leadership’s newfound willingness to split the bill, since they’ve used this tactic before to get to conference with the Senate,” Keller said. “We’ll be watching to see how they handle it going forward.”
Another group, Americans for Prosperity, has been actively campaigning to split the bill. On Monday afternoon, the group convened a conference call to discuss the split-bill strategy featuring Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind.
At the time of the farm bill’s House floor consideration, the AFP ran ads in more than a dozen congressional districts urging members to vote against the legislation. Their target audiences included those in the district of Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.
But AFP President Tim Phillips said his group’s work in bringing down the farm bill was not a reflection on its feelings about Boehner and his leadership team generally.
“This is not an ad hominem assault on House leadership,” Phillips said. “On the farm bill, [leadership has] just been wrong.”