The Half-Farm Bill squeezed through the House yesterday afternoon, with all Democrats opposing it along with a handful of Republicans. This is the Farm Bill with agriculture stuff only; the Republicans say they’ll move a second bill with the nutrition portions of the bill soon.

The story, here, is that the original House version of the bill failed when an amendment was adopted which cut SNAP (food stamp) funding, meaning that it lost Democratic votes, while Republicans deserted the bill anyway because it was still too high-spending for them. The leadership “solved” that by splitting the bill and going for a GOP-only 218, and after (reported) heavy lobbing, they got over the bar.

What’s not clear to me is whether John Boehner is better off with this thing passing. As Ed Kilgore notes, it’s not real likely that anything can come out of conference that can pass. It’s not really clear, right now, if the separate nutrition bill can pass. It’s not clear what Boehner had to promise to conservatives about conference to get them to stick on this vote. It’s not clear what the next step is.

It seems to me that Boehner did have another choice. If the GOP-only farm-only Farm Bill fails, then maybe he can push the mainstream of his conference to support a bipartisan bill, leaving the conservative fringe out entirely. It won’t work on everything, but on the Farm Bill, it really might. Maybe. And if it works on the Farm Bill and there’s little fallout, that might strengthen Boehner’s ability to gather different coalitions on the next tough one that comes up.

Of course, having yet another Farm Bill fiasco on the House floor would make the Republican House look silly (at least to the extent anyone is looking). But so what?

Would allowing the bill to go down demonstrate to the broad (and still very conservative) middle of the GOP conference that they’re sometimes better off shopping for a deal with moderate Democrats than with their own crazy caucus? Maybe not. But I’m not sure that it could hurt. And the upside in passing the Farm Bill today just doesn’t seem all that impressive to me.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.