WASHINGTON, July 17 (UPI) -- A farm bill conference with the U.S. Senate will have to wait until the House decides how to proceed on a food stamp bill, a key House negotiator said.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said that he could not "in good faith" pressure Republican leaders to appoint conferees until he crafts a bill that would cut food stamp funding, The Hill reported Tuesday.
"It would be difficult for me to move for a formal conference unless we address the nutrition issue," Lucas said.
During debate Thursday on a farm bill that did not include reauthorization of nutrition programs last week Lucas pledged that a separate bill on nutrition programs would be considered as soon as possible, although he would not guarantee what it would encompass. The farm subsidy-only bill narrowly passed the House, 215-208.
Senate Democrats are calling for an immediate conference with the bill the Senate has passed, which contains $4 billion in food stamp cuts -- well below the $20.5 billion in the original House farm bill that failed when 62 Republicans broke ranks and voted "nay."
The House sent the text of its farm bill to the Senate Tuesday, eliminating a procedural hurdle to moving toward a conference to resolve differences between the House and Senate bills, The Hill said.
Lucas said he has had informal discussions with Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., while polling the House GOP conference on what to about the food stamp program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Lucas and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., were expected convene a working group to craft a new food stamp bill this week.
"I would like to have something before we go home for August. I don't know if that is humanly possible but I am trying," Lucas said. "Through the course of two votes and two debates there has been some solidifying of positions so I have less flexibility than I had before."