House Republicans on Monday introduced a food stamp reform bill that they say will cut $40 billion from the program over 10 years.
The move sets up a dramatic debate and vote on the bill on Thursday, with the fate of the stalled farm bill likely hanging in the balance.
The bill contains twice as much in cuts as the House Agriculture Committee originally sought for the program and it was devised by a task force led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) after an integrated farm bill failed on the House floor this summer.
The House later passed a bill just dealing with the rest of the farm bill, including crop subsidies and crop insurance, before the August recess.
Rural Republicans appeared torn on the new bill, which has 10 times the level of cuts to the food stamp program as the Senate-passed farm bill. The difference could make it impossible to complete a planned House-Senate farm bill conference.
"You’re talking about $40 billion in cuts vs. $4 billion, which is a huge gap," said Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.). "We need that farm bill and cannot do an extension of the Pelosi farm bill. If that happens we are really going to get screamed at the town halls."
Farm bill supporter Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) who is whipping the food stamp bill, predicted that it would pass and that some compromise with the Senate will be found.
"It will pass and we will get a farm bill," he predicted.
The measure gets its savings by preventing states from waiving work requirements for recipients.
Democrats, including rural deficit hawks like Agriculture Ranking member Colin Peterson (D-Minn.), pounced on the new food stamp bill.
"Even if this bill is defeated, as it should be, I worry the debate will eliminate any remaining goodwill needed to pass a farm bill," Peterson said in a Monday statement.
“The Majority is again catering to the extremes of their party, pushing messaging bills to nowhere. It’s time to get serious. If they will just get out of our way, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees can work together and provide farmers, ranchers and consumers the certainty of a five-year farm bill.”
In preparation, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) began circulating talking points on Monday to help the GOP defend the measure. [see below]
To liberal charges that the bill kicks 6 million recipients off the rolls, the document says that "even in communities with higher than average unemployment, there are opportunities for these individuals to remain in compliance by performing community service activities," and that even after passage, 1 million more people will be getting food stamps than in 2009.
It also rebuts charges that the House is providing overly generous subsidies to millionaire farmers while cutting aid to the poor. It says the House farm bill cuts subsidies by 8.9 percent and food stamps by just 5.1 percent.
The House leadership document also criticizes the methods the Agriculture Department used in finding that 14.5 percent of U.S. households are "food insecure" and says that with $18 billion spent on job training "there is more than enough federal funding" for programs recipients can enroll in, in order to continue to get food stamps.
It remains unclear if House leaders will move forward with a farm bill conference if their nutrition bill fails although House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) has made clear that he expects leaders to do so.