The Senate last week agreed by unanimous consent to send the farm bill back to the House, which set the stage for House and Senate leaders to appoint conferees and hold a conference.  In a reflection of the ratio of Democrats to Republicans in the Senate, the Senate agreed to appoint seven Democrats and five Republicans to the conference committee.

The Senate passed a farm bill in June.  Although food stamps are traditionally part of farm bills, the House also passed its farm bill, but it did not include the nutrition title, which includes provisions pertaining to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called food stamps.  Food stamps are the largest hurdle to a new farm law, which is already nine months behind schedule. The Senate-passsed farm bill trimmed $4 billion from food stamps.  House Republicans seek much larger cuts and fiscally-conservative House Republicans would cut food stamps by more than $100 billion over 10 years and tighten eligibility rules.

The House of Representatives will try to cut billions of dollars from the food stamp program before negotiating an overall farm bill with the Senate, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said yesterday.  Cantor said that there has been closed-door meetings among House Republicans to find a consensus on food stamps, but the two meeting have not yet yielded a plan.  “We are now engaged in discussions…on a nutrition piece so that we can, yes, act again on that,” Cantor said. “So, I would say…it is not accurate that we don’t intend to eventually go to conference and iron out the differences between the House and Senate on both of those issues, on the ag policy as well as the nuttrition policies,” he said.

Meanwhile, Frank Lucas (R-OK), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, who would be in charge of House-Senate negotiations on a farm bill, said in a broadcast interview on Wednesday there was no consensus amoung House Republicans on food stamp cuts.  “Right now, that equation is not there,” in finding the 218 votes that will pledge to support a nutrtion title.  If there is no agreement by next week, Lucas said, the House should begin discussions with the Senate Ag committee leadership to attempt to craft a conference report that can pass both the House and the Senate.

Analysts say it will be difficut to write food stamp provisions that both chambers will accept, so it appears unlikey House-Senate negotiations would begin before the August recess.  Rep. Steve Southerland, who was part of Cantor’s working group on food stamps said on Wednesday, “I don’t think this will be done before September 30.”

The current farm law expires on September 30th.  Because of a five-week summer recess, Congress has 11 days of work scheduled before then.