Jonathan Chait's take on the farm bill/food stamps votes is far smarter than my own. He steps aside from the political gamesmanship and asks why Republicans can't bring themselves to cut agricultural subsidies when even "Obama has attacked the GOP farm-subsidy bill for spending too much." Writes Chait:
I’d prefer to abolish agriculture subsidies completely while keeping in place (or boosting) food rations for the poor. A libertarian might want to abolish both programs, a socialist might want to keep both. I’d disagree but attribute the disagreement to philosophical differences. What possible basis can be found to justify preserving subsidies for affluent farmers while cutting them for the poor? What explanation offers itself other than the party’s commitment to waging class war?
I'd just add that farm subsidies have not proven to be politically problematic for any Republicans seeking re-election. In 2010, Democrats tried to stymie Tennessee Republican Stephen Fincher and Indiana Republican Marlin Stutzman in their bids for open seats by pointing out that these guys received farm subsidies.
"I do believe we should get out of the subsidy business," Stutzman told me then. "We should let free markets work. A permanent subsidy creates a permanent distortion of the market and right now farmers have to work within this system."
Stutzman and Fincher went on to win, and now hold safe seats. Both of them voted for the farm subsidies bill, and for the cuts to food stamps. Other spending issues -- earmarks, whether you fund Obamacare in a CR or not -- rose to become party litmus tests. Not farm subsidies. That's not very puzzling, given that the House GOP has a solid majority locked in by safe seats that cover rural areas and exurbs, and that agricultural lobbyists know who to lean on.