Despite reports, no firm plan for farm bill in the House

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). AP House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) AP

Aides to House Republican leaders said Wednesday that they are still considering how to proceed with legislation establishing federal farm and food aid policy after news reports suggested that top leadership had settled on a strategy.

The current farm bill expires  Sept. 30 and federal policy on food aid and farming would revert back to a 1940s-era law in January if Congress fails to act.

Before departing for the August recess, the House passed a Farm Bill by splitting apart funding for nutritional programs and federal food stamps from language dealing with agriculture and conservation programs, a move that broke with decades of legislative precedence and infuriated the White House, congressional Democrats and some farm-state Republicans.

Farm subsidies and food stamps have long been paired, in part for political reasons. Rural lawmakers backing payments to farmers and urban ones supporting money for food and nutrition programs formed a powerful coalition that served both interests.

During a stop in North Dakota on Wednesday, House Majority Leader Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.) said that he still expected the House to take up the food stamp portion of the legislation and that it "will reflect the reform agenda that we’ve been about in the nutrition program.”

Local news reports said that Cantor said the House would pass the food stamp portion of the legislation in September and that House GOP leaders would then appoint members of a conference committee to negotiate a final version of the bill with the Senate.

Asked for clarification, Cantor aides said the local news reports incorrectly characterized the leader's plans.

"The leader expects to take up a nutrition bill that makes much-needed reforms to the food stamp program that adds work requirements for able-bodied adults, ends abuses and protects it for the children, seniors, disabled, and families that most need it," said Cantor spokesman Rory Cooper. "We'll consider next steps when we get to that point."

The bill is expected to include language that would toughen the eligibility requirements for "able-bodied adults" without children and other people who might try to fraudulently take advantage of the system, according to a document prepared by Cantor's office and provided by GOP congressional aides.

Leadership's intentions appear to conflict with comments made by Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who in an interview Wednesday suggested that House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Cantor would appoint conferees to negotiate with the Senate "whether we pass the nutrition piece or don't pass the nutrition piece."

"I think when we get back, the first thing we'll do is test the waters and see if there is an agreed-upon nutrition bill right now," he said in an interview with KVLY-TV in Fargo, N.D. "If, in fact, we have enough votes to pass that, we'll bring it up and pass it. If not, we'll bring it up probably the next week, either pass it or not pass it, because to me whether we pass it or don't pass it, the Senate does have it in theirs. After that I think you'll see us name conferees."

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) has called the House's consideration of a new farm bill “extremely flawed” and “an insult to rural America." Her aides did not return requests for comment Thursday.

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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