Senate Democrats embrace farm bill in battle to retain their majority
Erik Wasson - 05/04/13 02:47PM ET
Senate Democrats are moving to farm legislation that they think could bolster several red-state incumbents who are seeking reelection in 2014.
Last year, the Senate passed a five-year farm bill 64 to 35 only to see it die in the House because conservatives opposed the funding levels for food stamps.
Democrats believe the failure of the farm bill helped them retain the majority in the 2012 election, and are hoping for a repeat as they enter the 2014 election cycle.
“There is no question that the House refusal to take up farm bill helped Democrats retain the Senate,” said one senior Senate Democratic aide. "Democrats see an opportunity to make headway in red states and rural America."
GOP leaders refused to bring up a five-year farm bill last year, but are sending strong signals that they won’t let Democrats use the issue against them again.
In a memo to the House Republican conference sent on Friday, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said he was committed to moving a five-year farm bill this summer.
But passage of a sweeping farm bill is no sure thing in the House. Conservative groups decry the farm subsidies as corporate welfare and have pushed for deep cuts to food stamps that Democrats are unlikely to accept.
In the meantime, Senate Democrats are moving full-steam ahead with legislation that won wide, bipartisan approval last year.
Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) is poised to announce a committee markup as early as next week, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said a floor vote is coming in May.
Democratic aides and consultants said passage of the farm bill in the Senate could boost vulnerable red-state Democrats like Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), and help the party retain open seats in South Dakota and Montana.