Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are seemingly divided over how to marshal the $939 billion farm bill through the House as the legislation faces strong headwinds from conservatives over how much money to spend on food assistance programs.
Some House aides confirmed Tuesday that leaders have already decided that separating food stamps and farm commodity programs into two different bills would give the legislation a better chance to become law with a united GOP caucus.
But other Hill sources are pushing back, saying no final decisions have been made.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has been instrumental in the push to separate the legislation into two bills. While he initially received significant push back from Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., Lucas told the Hill Tuesday that he was open to "thinking outside the box" to get the bill across the finish line.
Despite the fact that the House farm bill made more than $20 billion in cuts to food stamps, many fiscal conservatives said it was still too generous and voted against the bill.
But as GOP leaders in the House inch closer to stripping food assistance programs from the farm bill, it's worth noting why the provisions have been included in the ag bill starting as early as the 1970s.
"In the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, the population changed dramatically and we became much more of an urban country," says Chard Hart, a professor of economics and a crop market specialist at Iowa State University. "To get congressmen excited about a farm bill, you had to include something that dealt with their constituents so the farm bill became less of an agriculture bill and more of a food bill."
The promise of food subsidies for the poor became a key part of convincing urban lawmakers to support a bill that directed tax payer's money to farm programs.
Today, Hart says that the sweetner is still important since most of the money needed to pay for farm subsidies helps only a small percentage of the population.
"This move could present a problem for both food assistance programs and these production ag programs," Hart says. "You have to find enough votes to build a consensus around, and by splitting these parts you are narrowing the number of members who might be attracted to it."
Billy Shore, an advocate at Share Our Strength – a group that advocates to end child hunger – says letting the politics of the day change the course of the farm bill for years to come would be short sighted.
"It feels like playing politics with kids," Shore says. "By putting these two bills together, we could help two groups of people who both needed help. It is hard to see any reason to split the titles except take away benefits from kids."