House Republican leaders plan to rally their rank-and-file members around a proposal to double spending cuts to the nation’s largest domestic food aid program to $40 billion over 10 years, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee said Thursday.
The proposal still must be written in draft legislative form and scored by the Congressional Budget Office, but Chairman Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., said the savings is expected to be much larger than the House Agriculture Committee farm bill’s original $20.5 billion in reductions over 10 years.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is the focus of proposed changes. SNAP, which provides food benefits to 47 million low-income people a month, accounts for more than half of all farm bill mandatory spending. The Senate-passed bill proposed $4 billion in SNAP cuts over 10 years.
Nearly doubling the nutrition cuts would almost certainly guarantee not a single vote from House Democrats. Only 24 Democrats voted for the original Agriculture Committee farm bill. None voted for an agriculture-only bill that Majority Leader Eric Cantor created by removing the nutrition title.
Collin C. Peterson, the ranking Democrat on House Agriculture and an ally to Lucas, said if the revised nutrition bill is brought to the floor it would doom a five-year farm bill this year.
"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," Peterson of Minnesota said.
Lucas said Cantor plans to have draft nutrition language ready when the House returns from recess in September. The 62 Republicans who voted against the House Agriculture Committee farm bill (HR 1947) on June 20 will be the likely focus of efforts by Cantor, R-Va., to pull together enough GOP votes to pass the bill.
"If 60-something members thought apparently $20 billion wasn’t enough we’ll see if they change their minds," Lucas told reporters after a speech to the Agribusiness Club.
Until the House takes action on the nutrition title, Lucas said a formal conference committee on the Senate farm bill (S 954) and House agriculture-only measure (HR 2642) is on hold.
"I’ve been ready to go to conference for a year," Lucas said, noting that the House and Senate Agriculture committees each produced five-year farm bills in 2012 but that House leaders kept his committee’s bill off the floor.
Cantor is in the process of presenting the plan to members and leaders expect that it will be on the floor in September, when the House returns from Congressional recess. They plan to conference it with the Senate after that.
Lucas did not provide much detail on how the additional savings might be achieved. However, Kristi Noem, R-S.D., said a nutrition task force hosted by Cantor settled on six to seven policy points that would build on the nutrition title as amended on the House floor in June.
"We met, and we think we have an agreement within the task force of what to bring forward to the rest of the conference and to propose potentially for a vote when we come back that first week of September," Noem said.
The major policy change that allows the budget savings, according to a senior House GOP aide, is that the bill would eliminate state work-requirement waivers for many food-stamp recipients.
Current law states that SNAP recipients who are childless adults can only draw benefits for three months out of every three years, unless they are working or unfit to work. But more than 40 states waive the work requirement based on extended unemployment.
"We would simply eliminate those waivers and would require that those able-bodied adults without dependents engage in work or be subject to the current time limit, which is three months out of every three years," the aide said.
Noem said provisions to allow drug testing would also remain in the nutrition title. The two provisions, added as floor amendments to the House Agriculture Committee-passed bill during June debate, eroded Democratic support for the farm bill and did not win over enough Republicans to approve the bill. The House rejected the bill 195-234.
After the defeat, Cantor removed the nutrition title, and the House passed an agriculture-only farm bill in July. Cantor and Lucas said they would try to find consensus around policy changes to SNAP to revise the nutrition title and bring it back to the floor for a vote.
Noem said she leaves for the August recess optimistic that the framework discussed at Wednesday’s task force meeting can be written into legislation acceptable to a majority of the Republican Conference.
"I wouldn’t say there was unanimous support, but enough support that people were willing to put that into language and talk about building consensus to get it to the floor in September," Noem said, referring to the task force meeting.
Daniel Newhauser contributed to this report.