House aims to cut $40B in farm bill nutrition cuts

Published on: Aug 1, 2013

House Republicans have reportedly developed a frame work for a standalone nutrition bill with $40 billion in cuts over 10 years, nearly double the $20.5 billion that was rejected in the comprehensive bill, and much higher than the $4 billion proposed in the Senate version.

CQ Roll Call reported that Rep. Kristin Noem (R., S.D.), who is part of the working group, said they developed six to seven points that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) will use to write a nutrition bill over the August recess. Noem said the nutrition bill could come up the first week in September.

During a luncheon with the Agribusiness Club Aug. 1, House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) admitted that the nutrition spending level differences between the House and Senate may be difficult to conference and may be a "tough bridge to cross to achieve consensus."

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) was quick to criticize the $40 billion in cuts and again blamed the Republican Party for "bringing up another political messaging bill to nowhere in an effort to try and placate the extreme right wing of their party."

Peterson, who had been supportive of the $20.5 billion in the initial House proposal by cutting categorical eligibility, said the additional $20 billion in nutrition cuts, "on top of the poison pill amendments" that brought down the bill in June "effectively kills any hopes of passing a five-year farm bill this year."

Pre-conferencing barriers

Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) said that she had been planning that the House and Senate could immediately go to conference committee during the August recess. However, she said House leadership is not expected to name conferees until it decides on a nutrition title.

"At this point, the path forward is certainly less clear," Stabenow said. She said conversations with House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) indicate he's willing to see the farm bill through, however, Cantor is playing "political gamesmanship that is blocking us from getting this done," Stabnow claimed.

Informal discussions between agricultural leaders have started and will continue, Stabenow said, including a meeting of Senate and House ag committee leaders and their staffs the evening of July 31. But they can't have serious discussions without the full parameters in front of them, most notably the nutrition title.  

"We will not be able to go as far as I would like or expected to go in pre-conferencing," Stabenow said.

The House is in session for only nine days in September and the Senate returns for five weeks of work when it comes back the first week in September. "This is a ticking time bomb waiting to go off," Stabenow said.

She shared that it will be difficult to get any kind of extension through the chambers, especially continuing direct payments which members have agreed need to be ended, but are an important piece of helping fund future commodity programs.