GOP: Pass farm bill, figure out food stamps in conference

To that, Sessions said Republicans were not trying to avoid reauthorizing food stamps, and were instead trying to pass some version of the bill that could be conferenced with the Senate bill. The Senate-passed bill includes a food stamp title, formally called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

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"If it is not in this title, and it is not, and if the House does not move forward on a nutrition or SNAP program, then all of these items still go to conference with the United States Senate," Session explained to Democrats. "It is contained within the Senate bill and would be fully operational, debatable, and decisions can be made in that conference."

"In that conference, it is fully authorized, and the House would simply not have taken a position," he said. "To assume or to say that we are trying to move a bill without nutrition and to take things away would not be truthful."

Sessions reminded Democrats that food stamp language in the farm bill brought up in June drew objections from both Republicans and Democrats, making it impossible to pass. In that June vote, 171 Republicans and 24 Democrats voted for the bill, and 62 Republicans and 172 Democrats voted against it.

Sessions indicated that a House-Senate conference might result in a farm bill that includes the Senate language on food stamps. That Senate language makes some cuts to food stamps, but not as much as the House GOP bill did in June.

However, Sessions did not promise that House Republicans would accept the Senate's food stamp language.

Regardless, Democrats rejected Sessions's explanation, and said Republicans were purposefully trying to gut the food stamp program.

"I do not trust the Republican leadership," Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) said. "Let's be clear: this attempt to separate the nutrition title from the rest of the farm bill is all about gutting the nutrition title. It's all about going after Americans who are struggling in poverty."

The GOP bill is so divisive that it prompted several minutes of debate about the rules for debating the bill. At the start, dozens of outraged Democrats asked for unanimous consent to insert statements into the record in opposition to the bill. Many were warned by the presiding officer, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), that if they embellished what is supposed to be a brief description of their statement, debate time would be charged against the Democratic side.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) interrupted the process several times to ask why time was being charged for some and not others. Meadows seemed to be charging extra time to members who listed more than one reason for opposing the bill but never laid out an explicit rule, and said the chair would judge each set of remarks separately.

After several of these remarks, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) asked consent to insert his own statement in the record, and said he opposes the bill "because it's sinful, it increases poverty in America, and it takes the food off the table of American families."

When Meadows said that would result in a time charge against Democrats, Hoyer rose again to appeal the ruling of the chair. Hoyer then insisted on a vote to appeal the ruling, which prompted Sessions to make a motion to table Hoyer's request.

After ruling in favor of Session in a voice vote, Hoyer asked for a recorded vote. The House voted 226-196 in favor of tabling Hoyer's request for a vote.

And with that, the tense debate on the rule for the bill continued.

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