Pelosi predicts no farm bill by October deadline

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Friday she has little faith in Congress to pass a farm bill by the Oct. 1 deadline.

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"[I'm] not confident, unfortunately," Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol.

The Democratic leader said the news that Republicans want $40 billion cut from the food stamp program would move the House bill so far to the right that a conference with the Senate bill could prove unworkable. 

She urged GOP leaders to take the farm bill they passed earlier in the month, which extends current farm policy but doesn't include food stamp provisions, and send that to the bargaining table with the Senate.

"Let's just go to the table," she said. "Even with that bill, as horrible as it was, at least it's a path to the conference table. But to put their members on record as supporting $40 billion in cuts really makes the path back even harder." 

Pelosi's remarks echo the warning from Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.), the senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, who predicted Thursday that the steep cut to food stamps would make compromise with the Senate impossible.

"Adding an additional $20 billion in nutrition cuts, on top of the poison pill nutrition amendments that brought down the Agriculture Committee’s bipartisan farm bill in June, effectively kills any hopes of passing a five-year farm bill this year," Peterson said.

GOP leaders say their food stamp cuts are designed simply to ensure that only those who need the federal assistance are getting it. The office of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the changes are "common sense." 

"Majority Leader Cantor and [Agriculture] Chairman [Frank] Lucas have worked with members to present a stand alone nutrition bill building on those reforms already considered by the House," Cantor spokesman Doug Heye said Thursday. "That will include common-sense measures, such as work requirements and job training requirements for able bodied adults without children receiving assistance, that enjoy a broad range of support."

In June, a comprehensive farm bill with roughly $20 billion in food stamp cuts failed in the House, largely because conservative Republicans thought that figure was too small. The new proposal is designed to win support from those lawmakers, even if the $40 billion figure has no chance of passing the Senate, as Democratic leaders are warning.

"It's a waste of time," Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), head of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said Thursday.

Pelosi on Friday noted that the Senate bill already contains several billion dollars in cuts to food stamps, warning that the larger reduction would harm poor families.

"There will be cuts in the food stamp program, in the nutrition program. We know that [because] there are some already in the Senate [bill]," she said. "But to go to $40 billion is to say, 'We do not share the values of those who think that America should not be a country where one-in-four children … goes to sleep hungry.' And that's really what their statement is."

The current farm bill expires on Oct. 1. 

If Congress does not act before then, America's farm policy would revert to that established in 1949.