Today, the House defeated a Republican farm bill proposal on a 195-234 vote. The bill included cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, that were not in a version that easily passed the Senate last week, 66-27.
Opposition was bipartisan. Almost all Democrats voted no because they opposed the food stamp cuts. But 60 Republicans also voted against the bill, mostly because it didn't cut enough.
This is another demonstration of the impossible hand that Speaker John Boehner is playing. He wants his caucus to pass alternatives to Democratic policy proposals from the Senate. But the conservative wing of his caucus places high demands and is willing to vote against leadership-backed proposals.
If he doesn't meet their demands, he risks defeats like today's.
Conservative inflexibility leaves only two ways to get any legislation through the House. One is to design a bill that is so conservative it gets nearly all Republican support. Often, this means a bill that will be very unpopular with the public.
Another is to let the Democratic minority provide most of the votes, which means letting them dictate the contents of the bill. Boehner's use of Democrat-heavy to pass legislation on major policy matters—the fiscal cliff, the debt ceiling increase, and quite possibly immigration reform—has led to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi getting the nickname "Speaker Pelosi."
There has to be a farm bill. Reauthorizing farm subsidies is (unfortunately) a political necessity, and so is reauthorizing food stamps. That leaves Boehner two options. He can come back with a bill that cuts food stamps more deeply. Or he can summon "Speaker Pelosi" to help him pass a bill that resembles the Senate version, which passed with widespread Democratic support and backing from nearly half of Republicans, too.
Either way, he's going to look weak.
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