House GOP drafting new food stamp bill with $40B in cuts

House Republicans are drafting legislation that would cut $40 billion from the federal food stamp program over 10 years.

That’s nearly double the $20.5 billion in cuts that were included in the farm bill legislation that failed on the House floor in June.

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who formed a working group to find a path forward on the issue, wants to pass the food stamp bill with only GOP votes. The deeper cuts are meant to attract conservatives who felt the $20.5 reduction was too low.

The extra savings come from removing the ability of states to get a waiver for the work requirement for able-bodied adults without dependents. Lawmakers estimate nearly 4 million able-bodied adults without dependents in 40 states would face new requirements for receiving assistance.

"This population of food stamp recipients has grown dramatically in recent years from 6.6 percent of the recipient population in 2007 to 9.7 percent in 2010," a fact sheet on the proposal says. 

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, warned lobbyists on Thursday not to be surprised if the Congressional Budget Office doesn’t score the new food stamp bill as saving $40 billion.

Lucas said congressional leaders would need to help him bridge the gap.

"This may be one of those issues where the conference committee can work out what each policy really does and the dollar effect on the budget, but where you have to have a little more guidance from on high,” Lucas said.

“That’s not passing the buck, that’s just saying it’s a tough bridge to cross to achieve consensus.”

The revamped legislation will be unveiled in September, ahead of a formal farm bill conference between the House and Senate.

The House narrowly passed a farm bill without a food stamp title this month, but has not appointed conferees to resolve differences with the Senate bill, which cuts just $4 billion from food stamps.

The top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee on Thursday said the new House GOP plan would make a compromise on the farm bill 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" Rep Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said.

“I’ve repeatedly told these guys, we don’t have to do this. If the House would just name conferees, members can conference the House ‘farm only’ bill with the Senate’s farm bill during August and produce a compromise for both Houses to pass.

“Through today’s action, the House majority has clearly shown they have no interest in getting a farm bill done. The American people should be outraged."

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said the new proposal would further hinder informal conference talks she wanted to conduct in August.

"This is one more roadblock that the House majority floor leader has put on the way of getting a farm bill done," she told reporters.

Stabenow said the size of the cuts and new work requirements in the proposal are "appalling" and would never become law.

"It's a waste of time," she said.

Cantor's office said the forthcoming food stamp bill will have reforms that simply make good sense.

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

Stabenow said passing a simple extension of the farm bill before the current bill expires on Oct. 1 would be very difficult. She noted Sen Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has vowed to block any extension of the direct payment system the Senate farm bill was designed to replace. 

— This story was last updated at 5:07 p.m.