By Erik Wasson - 07/16/13 11:17 PM EDT
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said Tuesday evening that a formal farm bill conference with the Senate will have to wait until the House decides what to do with a standalone food stamp measure.
"It would be difficult for me to move for a formal conference unless we address the nutrition issue," Lucas said.
A split farm subsidy only bill passed the House narrowly on Thursday.
Senate Democrats are calling for an immediate conference with the bill the Senate has passed, which contains $4 billion in food stamp cuts — much less than the $20.5 billion in the original House farm bill that failed on the floor. The House sent the text of its farm bill to the Senate on Tuesday, removing one procedural hurdle to moving toward a conference.
Lucas said he has started informal discussions with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie StabenowDebbie StabenowGreat Lakes senators seek boost for maritime system Podesta floated Bill Gates, Bloomberg as possible Clinton VPs Dems to McConnell: Pass 'clean' extension of Iran sanctions MORE (D-Mich.) as he polls the House GOP conference on what to do on food stamps.
Lucas and House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric CantorVA Dems jockey for Kaine's seat High anxiety for GOP Webb: Broken trust, broken party MORE (R-Va.) will convene a working group of House members to craft a new food stamp bill on Wednesday. Lucas said that he needs at least a week or two to draft a bill.
"I would like to have something before we go home for August. I don't know if that is humanly possible, but I am trying," Lucas said. "Through the course of two votes and two debates, there has been some solidifying of positions, so I have less flexibility than I had before."
Earlier on Tuesday, Lucas updated his committee on the farm bill process. The memo, obtained by The Hill, noted the formalities of the farm bill conference going forward. Lucas clarified to The Hill that the memo was not meant to suggest that the House would agree to a farm bill conference before dealing with the food stamps provisions.
"I think in good faith, I have to try to achieve some kind of consensus bill on nutrition," Lucas said. "It may not take long to determine whether that's possible and whether the divisions are too hard."
Some rural Republicans appear to be advocating for food stamp cuts similar to that in the original bill in the interest of aiding the House-Senate compromise while fiscal conservatives want something closer to the $135 billion in cuts in the House-passed budget.