John Boehner (R-OH) is about to face another big test of whether fractious House Republicans can get their act together enough to agree among themselves on key legislation. And it’s going to be a tough one.
By the end of the week, the House is expected to vote on legislation that would slash funding for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps, by $39 billion over 10 years. Made to appease the right wing of the GOP conference, the proposal could lose the support of some moderate Republicans, maybe enough to kill the bill.
That’d be a major embarrassment for GOP leadership, after they were forced to pull a version of the farm bill in June that included $20 billion in food stamp cuts because they couldn’t garner enough support from conservatives, who wanted deeper reductions. Now the revised proposal, drafted primarily by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) to win those votes, could be too harsh for some in the party’s center.
Multiple Republican aides confirmed to TPM that their members would vote against the new bill, which the Congressional Budget Office estimated would remove up to 3.8 million people from food stamp rolls.
As part of the spending cuts, the bill would reinstate requirements that adults perform job-search activities to receive benefits. “No individual who meets the income and asset guidelines of the SNAP program and is willing to comply with applicable work requirements will lose benefits as a result of these reforms,” Cantor wrote in a memo to the GOP conference.
Those defections alone are not enough yet to sink the bill, but other reports have also suggested the whip counts are uncertain. Republican leadership was taking a whip count last week, according to aides, but the whip office declined to share any sense of the results with TPM.
Food stamp advocates and House Democratic aides, who agreed that the new bill could be in trouble, pointed TPM to votes on two farm bill amendments in June as evidence of a potential moderate GOP revolt.
One, offered by Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), would have deepened the food stamp cuts from $20 billion to $31 billion. It was defeated, 175-250, with 57 Republicans joining 193 Democrats against it. In other words: A bill that included $8 billion less in cuts than Cantor is proposing now lost nearly 60 members of his conference.
On another amendment, which also failed, five Republicans joined the Democratic caucus in voting to eliminate the food stamp cuts altogether.
So now it becomes a numbers game. Cantor needs 217 votes to pass the bill, and he has 233 members in his conference. Every member of the House Democratic caucus has signed a letter opposing the cuts, so there is no chance of aisle-crossing on this vote.
First, the five Republicans who voted in June against cuts of any kind seem likely to oppose $39 billion in cuts.
Now House leadership is down to 228 gettable votes. That means they can only lose 11 of the 57 members who voted against $31 billion in food stamps cuts in June. They will likely win some of them back — aides for two of the 57 told TPM that their members would support the Cantor bill — but how many is still a standing question.
On top of that, Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN), who helped Cantor draft the new bill, indicated to the Wall Street Journal this week that some of the more conservative members could still end up opposing the bill because they still aren’t satisfied with the depth of the cuts.
“House Republicans are working to restore the integrity of this safety-net program and protect it for those who need it most,” Cantor spokeswoman Megan Whittemore told TPM in an email when asked about the vote.
The June farm bill vote, like the defund Obamacare battle that is currently unfolding, was seen as a failure of House GOP leadership to control their ultra-conservative wing. Now it seems at least plausible that leadership could lose the other end of their party — or both ends — and be dealt another public defeat.