The House moved its farm bill one step closer to conference with the Senate Tuesday, when it made a procedural move that formally sent the legislation without food stamp provisions over to the Senate.
Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said Monday she was "pretty stunned" House leaders had not yet sent the bill over to the Senate. "This is a very positive step," Stabenow said upon hearing the news Tuesday that the bill had be sent to the Senate.
Stabenow had speculated Monday the House might hold the bill until it passed a nutrition title — a tall order for a House Republican Conference hostile to food stamps and a Democratic caucus with little interest in passing a measure that drastically cuts the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
On Tuesday, a House GOP leadership aide criticized Stabenow for making assumptions.
"Per usual, it appears Sen. Stabenow was more interested in rushing to play politics than simply waiting a few hours for the clerk’s office to do their due diligence," the House leadership aide said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said he now has "great hopes" a conference will occur and a final bill will be produced. Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., said the bill's arrival would give negotiators time to reconcile the bills. "I think the House wants a bill. The Senate wants a bill. It's encouraging to me that we have a pathway," he said.
After the surprise defeat of the June farm bill, 195-234, House leaders separated food stamps from farm provisions and advanced an agriculture-only bill, 216-208, with no Democratic votes last week.
House Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., had theorized that dropping food stamps from the bill would mean the Senate’s far slimmer cuts to the program would be adopted in the end. He said either conferees will accept the Senate’s $4 billion SNAP cut — the House bill advocated for roughly $20 billion in cuts — or the Senate would not advance its nutrition title, effectively continuing current spending.
Lucas has said he has a commitment from leadership to bring a SNAP bill to the floor as soon as he finds 218 votes. Finding that many votes, however, could be elusive.
Phillip Brasher and Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this report.