The farm bill provides a rare victory for House Republicans

July 11, 2013

House Republican leaders successfully pulled their party back from the brink of a second legislative embarrassment in as many weeks, passing a stripped down version of the farm bill with the narrowest of majorities.


Eric Cantor and John Boehner

The win on the House floor comes on the heels after the first farm bill failure, a loss largely attributed to the revolt against leadership by five dozen Republicans who voted against it.  Hoping to avoid owning the political consequences of killing a bill that provides subsidies to farmers across the country, GOP leaders -- led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) -- decided to pull the food stamp provisions out of the legislation to attract more Republican members to vote for it.

It worked. Just a dozen Republicans bolted this time around, a measure of party unity that allowed the bill to pass despite the fact that not a single Democrat voted for the legislation. (Two dozen Democrats voted for the original farm bill proposal with food stamps included.)

Despite today's victory, the farm bill faces a very uncertain future. The legislation could now head to a conference committee where the differences between the House and Senate versions of the measure will try to be worked out.  Of course, it remains to be seen whether the Senate will agree to a conference committee if the House can't pass the food stamp provisions. And, even if a conference committee can find common ground between the two bills, there's absolutely no guarantee that House Republicans can find a majority to support that final package.

All of that is, of course, in the future. For today, Cantor, House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), proved that they could deliver on a promise -- an ability that has been severely compromised over the first six months of this year.

Consider the alternative. Let's say that the farm bill failed again, even after leadership had purposely split the bill -- and risked a political beating by taking food stamps out of it -- in order to ensure something passed.  The "who is driving this car" narrative, already in motion, would pick up considerable momentum. Stories about whether the Republican leadership had any control over the GOP Conference would be everywhere.  Boehner's hand going forward -- immigration, debt ceiling etc. -- would be further weakened.

Boehner, Cantor and McCarthy took a gamble today.  And they found a way to make it   pay off.  Does this solve their long-term problems when it comes to running the House? Absolutely not. But given where the House GOP is/has been, even a small bit of good news is much needed.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Sean Sullivan · July 11, 2013