Why The HFC Killed The Farm Bill

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Robert Donachie Capitol Hill and Health Care Reporter
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Republican leadership in Congress got a wake-up call Friday morning when members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus (HFC) shot down a farm bill in order to secure a vote on an immigration proposal they were promised months ago.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy tried to lobby members last-minute to get on board. Ryan and McCarthy huddled with House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows and co-founder Jim Jordan in the back of the House chamber before the final gavel, but their 11th-hour attempts to sell the bill fell on deaf ears.

The bill failed with members voting 198-213, dealing a decisive blow to leadership. Democrats cheered as the final vote was read out and some members left the chamber entirely confused as to what exactly transpired. Leadership truly thought they had the votes — at least that is what McCarthy told reporters heading into the vote Friday.

Many Republicans wanted the bill, including President Donald Trump, because it imposed work requirements on food stamps — a long sought-after reform conservatives want for all manners of welfare programs.

Yet, there was something larger at play: immigration, a policy issue that helped fuel the rise of Trump and helped lead Republicans to take the House and Senate in 2016. The HFC hasn’t forgotten that and Friday’s vote was a way to remind leadership about their promises to conservative and Republican voters.

The play was simple and out in the open: the HFC was willing to trade its 36 votes that leadership needed to pass a large agricultural appropriation bill if Republican leadership would commit to whip and bring Reps. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Michael McCaul of Texas’s immigration bill to the floor for a vote. (RELATED: House GOP Pushes Goodlatte-McCaul Immigration)

Whipping Goodlatte/McCaul shouldn’t have been a problem, since leadership promised its members it was doing just that since March, multiple House Republican aides told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“For months, they’ve told us they are whipping Goodlatte,” a senior GOP staffer told TheDCNF. “Every week, week after week, they keep saying it.”

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise is even on record in February telling reporters he was whipping Goodlatte.

“The Goodlatte-McCaul bill is a bill that we are whipping today — asking our members to support this bill that addresses those pressing issues. It puts money in place to build the wall and makes sure that we have both border security and interior security,” Scalise told reporters. “And again, both Chairmen Goodlatte and McCaul worked very hard with a cross-section of our members to put together a bill that confronts those issues.”

Despite the promises, Republicans haven’t seen the fruits of those efforts, causing some conservative Republicans to wonder if leadership was really whipping the bill at all.

Ryan’s team burned the midnight oil with the HFC late Thursday evening, who rejected leadership’s offer to vote on Goodlatte in June because they didn’t believe it would happen after a number of failed promises on the issue. HFC members left the meeting Thursday night believing there were still conversations that needed to happen and they are committed as ever to their cause.

“At some point, Congress has to get serious about dealing with the immigration issue, and we think it’s more prudent to push toward a solution, that both conservatives and moderates can support, sooner rather than later,” Meadows’s spokesman told TheDCNF. “We remain committed to reaching an agreement and we look forward to continuing discussions in the coming days.”

Ryan’s office did not return a request for comment from TheDCNF.

Farm bills don’t always pass on the first swipe. The House shot down a conservative farm bill in 2013, ultimately passing a bipartisan agreement months later.

“In order to avoid this end-run around a majority of Republicans, leadership has promised that we would vote on a standalone Rep. Goodlatte immigration reform bill. This compromise legislation would help DACA kids and at the same time implement critical reforms to our immigration system that will solve our border crisis, including provisions that address agriculture-related work issues,” Republican Rep. Dave Brat of Virginia said Friday. “Unfortunately, we were unable to reach a conclusion on these immigration and procedure issues before the vote today.”

The other point conservative staffers pressed upon TheDCNF is that the deadline for passing a farm bill is still months out. The bill doesn’t have to pass until Sept. 30 — the end of the fiscal year — and that causes some pause as to why leadership was pressing so hard to get it through in May. (RELATED: Can Republicans Tackle Welfare Reform In 2018?)

Ryan, who has spent the entirety of his tenure in Washington — from think tank aide to speaker — looking for the chance to tackle welfare reform, notably voted against the farm bill. Interestingly, he sold the bill as critical because it imposed work requirements on food stamps.

“There could not be a better time to take action to help more people join our workforce,” Ryan told reporters at his weekly news conference Thursday. “That is why the farm bill that we are debating today is so critical. It sets up a system for SNAP recipients where if you are able to work, you should work to get the benefits. And if you can’t work, we’ll help you get the training you need.”

Leadership has momentarily tabled the farm bill discussion and the path forward is unclear, whether that be a revote on the conservative version of the farm bill or a new, bipartisan bill that would garner Democratic support.

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