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GOP weighing split farm bill

House leaders angle for backing of conservatives

– A month after suffering an embarrassing defeat, House Republican leaders are considering a new strategy to try to win support for the massive, five-year farm bill: splitting it into two separate measures, one for farm programs and one for food stamps.

It’s an attempt to gather support from conservatives who voted against the $100 billion-a-year farm bill, and critics say it could lead to bigger cuts in both farm subsidies and the domestic food aid.

Republicans discussed the strategy in a Tuesday caucus meeting, with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., saying for the first time that he would go along with a split bill if leaders could deliver the votes.

Republicans were assessing support for the idea, and a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said no decisions had been made on how to revive the bill.

The House rejected the farm bill in June by a vote of 234-195 after some in the GOP complained that the legislation did not cut enough from food stamps. Democrats said the 3 percent cut in food stamps was too much.

At the time, Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, offered amendments to divide farm policy and food stamps – officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – into separate bills. The House Rules Committee rejected his proposals, and they were not considered by the full House.

Stutzman, a LaGrange County corn and soybean farmer, said in a recent interview: “It’s not about ruining one program or another. It’s really about good governance and dealing with issues individually so people know exactly what we are voting on and also so Americans know exactly where tax dollars are being spent.”

In a statement Tuesday, Stutzman referred to the combination of farm and nutrition programs as “a trillion dollar welfare bill that’s a farm bill in name only.”

Farm groups and anti-hunger groups have warned that separating the farm and nutrition programs after decades of linking them would be a major mistake. Rural lawmakers have added money for food stamps to the farm bill, which sets policy for agricultural subsidies and other farm programs, to gather urban votes for the measure.

Spending on food stamps has doubled in the last five years to almost $80 billion a year.

The Democratic-led Senate, which overwhelmingly passed a farm bill with smaller cuts to food stamps, would be reluctant to go along with a split bill or further cuts to the programs.

In a letter to Boehner last week, more than 500 farm groups discouraged GOP leadership from splitting the legislation.

“We believe that splitting the nutrition title from the rest of the bill could result in neither farm nor nutrition programs passing, and urge you to move a unified farm bill forward,” the groups wrote.

Brian Francisco of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.

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