Farm bill on hold while House tries again on food stamp cuts

WASHINGTON Thu Jul 25, 2013 7:39pm EDT

A combine drives through a field of soft red winter wheat during the harvest on a farm in Dixon, Illinois, July 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young

A combine drives through a field of soft red winter wheat during the harvest on a farm in Dixon, Illinois, July 16, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Young

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican-controlled House will try to cut billions of dollars from the food stamp program before negotiating an overall farm bill with the Senate, the House majority leader said on Thursday two months before the current farm law expires.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the House "eventually" would open final-round discussions with the Senate on a farm bill that could cost $100 billion a year.

The current farm law expires on Sept 30. Congress has 12 days of work scheduled before then, mostly because of a five-week summer recess. Without a new law, farm subsidies will revert to sky-high levels dictated by a 1949 law and the price of milk at the grocery store could double.

Food stamps traditionally are part of farm bills. They are the largest hurdle to a new farm law, already nine months behind schedule. The new farm bill is expected to expand the taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance system.

Cantor said, during an exchange with the No. 2 Democrat Steny Hoyer, that there have been closed-door meetings among House Republicans to find consensus on food stamps. Fiscally conservative Republicans helped defeat a farm bill in June because they wanted deeper cuts than the $20 billion - largest in a generation - that were proposed. Two meetings have not yielded a plan.

"We are now engaged in discussions ... on a nutrition piece so that we can, yes, act again on that," Cantor said after Hoyer asked when the House would negotiate with the Senate.

"So, I would say ... it is not accurate that we don't intend to eventually go to conference and iron out the differences between the House and Senate on both of those issues, on the ag policy as well as the nutrition policies," said Cantor.

Farm lobbyists said it appeared unlikely House-Senate negotiations would begin before the August recess.

Florida Republican Steve Southerland, who was part of Cantor's working group on food stamps, said on Wednesday, "I don't think this will be done before Sept 30."

Another conservative Republican, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, said he was worried a House-Senate deal on food stamps would be reached before the House voted on a Republican-written bill. Some Republicans would cut food stamps by more than $100 billion over 10 years and tighten eligibility rules.

"There have been no discussions in the (Republican) conference on how we get to 218" votes, the minimum needed to pass a food stamp bill, said Huelskamp.

While House Republicans seek large cuts, the Senate passed a farm bill in June that would trim a comparatively small $4 billion. Analysts say it will be difficult to write food stamp provisions that both chambers will accept.

"I doubt we can get support in the Senate for saving $20 billion," said Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, who wants food stamp reform.

The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Frank Lucas, who would be in charge of House-Senate negotiations on a farm bill, said in a broadcast interview on Wednesday there was no consensus among House Republicans on food stamp cuts. If there is no agreement by next week, he said, the House should begin discussions with the Senate.

(Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)

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Comments (6)
Nurgle wrote:
It’s ok if people go hungry, but we sure as heck want more money for bullets and bombs. Oh, and while we’re here (first empties pockets of, and then pushes aside wide-eyed family farmer) ConAgra, thanks to your beneficent lobbying efforts we’d like to make sure that you too benefit from the citizen’s largesse. Now it’ll be a lot easier to afford that great college for Junior since it costs more than a house did just a few years ago – and the helicopter to get her there since the roads are so bad and the bridges are so dangerous that driving just isn’t the thing to do.

Many of our legislators, aside from appearing completely unqualified to address the tasks at hand, have, in my opinion, a rather skewed sense of priorities.

Jul 25, 2013 9:29pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Speaker2 wrote:
Dems should hold out. Price of milk doubles and the Retard-publicans will take a big hit in 2014. Heartless, senseless fools that they are.

Jul 25, 2013 9:47pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
jamesco34 wrote:
For all the bluster about “free enterprise” as Jesse Helms used to put it, subsidies are farmers’ crack cocaine. They are addicted to them and have been since WWII. Reagan talked about cutting farm subsidies and they lost I think about nine senate seats and the majority in the 1984 elections. That ended that. Congress has been shoveling money to agriculture since that time and it does not matter much who is in power. It is all about the politics of the Senate and will continue to be. They just figure out new and creative ways to do it.

The irony is that in an economic sense, cutting food stamps cuts demand for ag products and will have a negative impact on prices. Talk about shooting themselves in the foot.

Jul 25, 2013 9:52pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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