The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent reports that Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) is organising Democrats to vote against any farm bill that does not also include an extension of emergency unemployment benefits.
Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee and a former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is considered an influential member of the caucus.
He says the farm bill, which generally enjoys bipartisan support but is especially important to Republicans representing rural districts, provides Democrats’ next opportunity to force the Republican Party’s hand on unemployment.
House and Senate negotiators are currently trying to reconcile each side’s version of the bill, which expires on Jan. 1. Yesterday, the House passed a one-month extension to give negotiators more time time to work out a deal. The Senate will take it up next week.
The farm bill is mainly made up of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) and farm subsidies. If it lapses, the law reverts back to a version passed in 1949. That would send milk prices soaring to $US8 per gallon. It would also cause an interruption in various farm programs, but SNAP benefits would continue to be issued.
The House failed to pass a comprehensive farm bill this summer, instead passing one that dealt with farm programs and a separate one for SNAP that cut benefits by $US40 billion over 10 years. The comprehensive Senate bill includes $US4 billion in SNAP cuts. The legislation that comes out of conference will include fewer cuts than many House Republicans will accept, forcing House Speaker John Boehner to need Democratic votes to pass the final bill. This is where Van Hollen sees an opportunity for House Democrats.
“Under no circumstances should we support the farm bill unless Republicans agree to use the savings from it to extend unemployment insurance,” he told Sargent.
“I’m confident that the House Democratic leadership will look for every opportunity to extend unemployment insurance, helping struggling families and the economy. The farm bill reauthorization may be the first such opportunity.”
Shortly after Christmas, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program expires and 1.3 million Americans will lose their jobless benefits. The program extends the length of time that unemployed workers could collect benefits from the standard 26 weeks to as long as 73 weeks, though the maximum duration of benefits varies by state.
In recent weeks, Democrats have pushed hard for another extension of the EUC. Sen. Patty Murray bargained with Rep. Paul Ryan last weekend about including it in their budget, but ultimately lost out. Majority Leader Harry Reid has said that he will push for an extension after New Year’s.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.