By Erik Wasson - 07/19/13 04:08 PM EDT
Divided House Republicans can't agree on a food stamp bill, dimming hopes that a farm bill conference can begin before the August recess.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) warned Friday that no one should expect action anytime soon given fights among House Republicans over how much to cut food stamps.
He said he'd told Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who leads the Senate Agriculture Committee, of the difficulty.
Lucas said a working group led by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) will meet again early next week for the second time to try to craft a food stamp bill.
“I’m continuing to poll my colleagues, both Rs and Ds, and doing the best I can,” Lucas said. “My next stop is a dentist appointment. This has been a trying week … at least the drilling there will lead to some relief.”
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who serves on the 20-odd member working group, said there is 50-50 chance there will be no draft food stamp bill by the August recess.
“That is about an even money thing. It’s a toss up,” King said. “If we can come to some consensus, leadership wants to get this done.”
The Senate on Thursday night formally requested a farm bill conference. Stabenow got unanimous consent to make the move after enlisting GOP committee members to tamp down any Republican objections.
The Senate farm bill includes a food stamp title, but GOP leaders ripped those provisions from their bill after an initial version of the legislation went down in a rare floor defeat.
King said he is crafting a series of principles, and once they are roughly scored by budget experts, he will present them to the working group. He said that some members want to pick a dollar amount of cuts, but that he prefers to outline policies and have them scored.
“I don’t think we should be picking a number, throw darts at a dart board and pick policies that get us there,” said King, who chairs the Agriculture subcommittee on nutrition.
The original House farm bill contained $20.5 billion in food stamp cuts, much less than the $135 billion envisioned in the House 2014 budget.
“Some Republicans want to have much deeper cuts in food stamps, and others say, 'I don’t want to go home to my constituents having voted to cut them deep enough that my political opposition can make a case out of it,'” King said.
House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said the situation in the food stamp working group doesn’t bode well for getting a farm bill passed before the current system of agriculture subsidies expires on Sept. 30.
“They could very well screw this up,” Peterson said. “I told them, 'You don’t have to do this.' We can take care of nutrition in conference, and all this is going to do is alienate people. They are going to need Democratic votes to pass whatever comes back from the Senate conference in the end.”