Thursday, July 11, 2013

Maybe Boehner Should Have Tanked the Farm Bill

The Half-Farm Bill squeezed through the House this afternoon, with all Democrats opposing it along with a handful of Republicans. This is the Farm Bill with agriculture stuff only; the Republicans say they'll move a second bill with the nutrition portions of the bill soon.

The story, here, is that the original House version of the bill failed when an amendment was adopted which cut SNAP (food stamp) funding, meaning that it lost Democratic votes, while Republicans deserted the bill anyway because it was still too high-spending for them. The leadership "solved" that by splitting the bill and going for a GOP-only 218, and after (reported) heavy lobbing, they got over the bar.

What's not clear to me is whether John Boehner is better off with this thing passing. As Ed Kilgore notes, it's not real likely that anything can come out of conference that can pass. It's not really clear, right now, if the separate nutrition bill can pass. It's not clear what Boehner had to promise to conservatives about conference to get them to stick on this vote. It's not clear what the next step is.

It seems to me that Boehner did have another choice. If the GOP-only farm-only Farm Bill fails, then maybe he can push the mainstream of his conference to support a bipartisan bill, leaving the conservative fringe out entirely. It won't work on everything, but on the Farm Bill, it really might. Maybe. And if it works on the Farm Bill and there's little fallout, that might strengthen Boehner's ability to gather different coalitions on the next tough one that comes up.

Of course, having yet another Farm Bill fiasco on the House floor would make the Republican House look silly (at least to the extent anyone is looking). But so what?

Would allowing the bill to go down demonstrate to the broad (and still very conservative) middle of the GOP conference that they're sometimes better off shopping for a deal with moderate Democrats than with their own crazy caucus? Maybe not. But I'm not sure that it could hurt. And the upside in passing the Farm Bill today just doesn't seem all that impressive to me.


  1. Would allowing the bill to go down demonstrate to the press that the Republican caucus is crazy, just as Chuck Todd noted this weekend? This might be a good way to push back on that meme, considering there's not much they CAN do.

  2. You've often argued that we can't judge Boehner as a failure as Speaker because of the conference he has to deal with. He must be graded on a curve, basically, because his conference is full of nuts with one eye on their next primary battle and the other on Fox News.

    In light of that...what would Boehner have to do to be a failure in your opinion? Fail to pass must-pass legislation, like the debt ceiling increase? Be voted out by his caucus? See the Republicans lose their majority in the mid-terms? Lose his own seat? What do you think?

    1. His job involves being responsive to his conference, and they are dysfunctional. So you're going to get ugly stuff. Essentially, he's constantly being asked to fashion solutions to impossible problems, and so far he's managed to avoid pissing off his conference and also managed for the most part to avoid real disaster -- no government shutdown, for example.

      Yes, the debt limit brinkmanship in summer 2011 was bad, but I blame that on the Members, not the Speaker.

  3. Good q, Kal. Not sure how I'd answer.

  4. So the two bills go to conference, and one of two outcomes will occur. Either food stamps are stripped out of the final product, or they are retained in some form in the final product. In the former case, the bill fails to either pass the Senate or get signed by the President. In the latter case, Republicans face having to vote to feed poor people again.

    I'm thinking that if the spotlight moves to a different section of politics by the time the bill comes out of committee, even if it has food stamps in it, the House can quietly vote for it. The House will almost certainly have moved the bill to the right in conference.

    Really, what we're talking about is that when you're making sausage, it's ugly. Maybe if the Kardashians were more popular, the Republicans could dabble in policy once in a while.


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