The Farm Bill's Failure Could Be Disastrous For Boehner On Immigration Reform And Other Major Bills

John Boehner

It’s hard to understate how much of a setback the farm bill’s surprise failure was for an already dysfunctional and divided House of Representatives. 

It showed that House leadership doesn’t have a complete measure of the vote counts for even the most basic bills. It provided embarrassment all the way up to House Speaker John Boehner, who took the unusual step of publicly supporting the bill and voting for it. And it signaled possible turbulence ahead for other larger and higher-profile bills, such as one on the issue of immigration

The debacle brings up fresh new questions about major legislation passing through the House. If Boehner can’t bring his conference together to move a farm bill through to a conference committee, what does it mean for immigration, debt ceiling, and government appropriations bills looming later this summer and fall?

The looming immigration fight, in particular, parallels the farm bill in many ways, though it could hypothetically have even more disastrous consequences for the Republican Party if it fails.

A similar version of a Senate farm bill that earned bipartisan support in a 66-27 vote failed to pass the House. Soon, an immigration bill that now looks likely to earn more than 70 bipartisan Senate votes could present Boehner with the same problem. 

“The two are very different issues. However, the farm bill highlights how complicated things are here in the House,” one House GOP aide told Business Insider. 

From here, the farm bill faces one of two likely fates — it could either face extinction, or House leadership could put a modified version on the floor. It’s unlikely, though, that a modified bill will come to the floor, considering that it would likely take more food-stamp cuts to earn Republican votes — something that would scare off Democrats. Most likely, a GOP aide said, a one-year extension will be passed, like both the House and Senate did last year.

A final version of any farm bill, even a one-year extension, will likely need a majority of Democrats to support its passage. The House last passed a farm bill extension as part of the bill to avert the fiscal cliff, which passed with a majority of Democrats supporting it. That overall bill required Boehner to break the Hastert Rule.

On immigration, Boehner will have an even narrower path to navigate. He has pledged to not allow a vote on a bill that does not garner majority support from Republicans. It’s clear that breaking that promise, however, is perhaps the only way a bill would pass through the House to become law — even if the Senate bill is watered down to earn more Republicans’ support. 

Doing so would likely mean Boehner would face a revolt from conservative members of his caucus. Already, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) has warned him on his speakership

One Democratic strategist, though, said Boehner might have to be willing to buck the majority of his caucus to do something he feels is necessary for the future of the party. The strategist pointed to comments from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) last weekend, who cautioned immigration reform was necessary to keep the GOP from falling into a “demographic death spiral.”

“He might have to decide between the short-term imperative of keeping his speakership,” the strategist said, “and the long-term imperative of the future of the Republican Party.”

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