Nutrition Measure Likely on House Floor Next Week as Farm Bill Struggle Continues

CQ NEWS
Sept. 9, 2013 – 6:44 p.m.

By Ellyn Ferguson, CQ Roll Call

The Senate Agriculture chairwoman and the Obama administration on Monday reaffirmed their opposition to an extension of the 2008 farm bill, saying it would take the pressure off Congress to finish a new five-year farm bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., backed Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., in her call for the House to name farm bill conferees soon rather than wait until Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., brings a revised nutrition title to the floor for a vote. However, a Cantor aide said it is likely the nutrition bill could come to the floor next week. The issue is expected to be discussed at the GOP conference meeting Tuesday. No final decision has been made, the aide said.

As outlined, the House nutrition measure would reduce the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, by $40 billion over 10 years. The Senate bill (S 954) proposed $4 billion in reductions over the next decade.

Reid and Stabenow made their pitch for continued pressure on the House in an appearance at a National Farmers Union press conference.

“The farm bill is so very important,” Reid said. “It creates jobs and it is the way we feed ourselves. I hope if you support the American farmer, the American people, that you’ll do what you can to weigh in with the House. They have got to allow us to pass this bill.”

Reid and Stabenow touted the Senate farm bill (S 954) as the measure that conferees could build on to produce a final version.

“Let’s go get them and pass a farm bill,” Stabenow told a crowd of about 200 people at the outdoor event. Singer Neil Young accounted for part of the draw, speaking in support of the federal renewable fuel standard and ethanol production as well for passage of a 2013 farm bill.

Earlier in the day, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told National Farmers Union members that an extension would reward congressional failure to act on a “huge bill” that sets policy for everything from crop production to rural development to soil and water conservation and agricultural exports. Exports post surpluses as opposed to the overall U.S. trade deficit.

“It’s been 10 months since we were told, ‘Give us an extension of the existing programs, some of them, and we’ll get this done after the (presidential) election,’” Vilsack said. “It hasn’t gotten done from January now into September. You do have to begin questioning whether or not this is a priority and it ought to be a priority.”

The House passed an agriculture-only farm bill (HR 2642) in July but further movement is tied to Cantor’s timetable for putting the revised nutrition bill up for a vote. Cantor removed the title from a House Agriculture Committee-passed bill (HR 1947) after the measure failed on the House floor.

Last week, Cantor indicated in a legislative memo that the nutrition bill was on his fall agenda. Cantor also said the revised nutrition bill would retain provisions and incentives by Rep. Steve Southerland II, R-Fla., to encourage states to require all able-bodied parents with children older than 6 to work or be in work-related activities. He also said the bill would end waivers that allow states to exempt single able-bodied adults without children from time limits for food aid.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which Cantor sees as a leading opponent to the proposal, estimates that 4 million to 6 million people could lose benefits. SNAP provides aid to nearly 47 million people each month.

Daniel Newhauser contributed to this story.

ellynferguson@cqrollcall.com

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