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“This pre-conference process that we’re now engaged in, of doing the homework ... that can’t be done in hours or days,” Lucas told the Agribusiness Club on Thursday.
The Senate officially named its 12 conferees on Friday and the House is expected to name negotiators in September.
In the House, Cantor delayed a decision about going to conference until he offers a revised farm bill nutrition title that could cut up to $40 billion over 10 years in spending for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The larger savings would come primarily by limiting states’ ability to issue work waivers for unemployed childless adults and others. The savings would be nearly double the $20.5 billion in cuts over 10 years in the original House Agriculture Committee-passed bill (HR 1947). The Senate bill proposes $4 billion in SNAP cuts over 10 years.
The House rejected the committee bill in June, largely because of disagreements on SNAP. Cantor removed the nutrition title and the House along party lines approved an agriculture-only farm bill.
Democrats protested the proposed $20.5 billion savings as too large and say the news that Republicans are seeking larger reductions may doom the bill.
Pelosi said the new nutrition proposal — which has not been written — makes the original committee bill less objectionable from the view of her caucus.
“Even with that bill as horrible as it was, at least it was a path to the conference table,” she said.
Lucas acknowledged that the difficulty of bridging the gap on nutrition cuts will only grow more challenging if the House moves forward with $40 billion in reductions. But with some effort, he said it could be done.
“This is one of those areas where you need guidance from on high,” Lucas said, alluding to congressional leaders and the Obama administration. “That’s not passing the buck. That’s just saying it’s a tough bridge to cross without some help in achieving consensus.”
Emma Dumain and Emily Ethridge contributed to this report.