GOP May Be About To Fold In Protracted Food Stamp Fight

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Just a couple months ago, House Republicans passed historic cuts to food stamps, nearly $40 billion worth. But now, a short time after that ideological stand, the GOP may have to relent in its effort to extract such significant reductions in the program’s funding and agree to far less austere cuts, even if it means having to rely on Democratic votes to get it passed.

The possible about-face comes as the two chambers are negotiating over a farm bill that would include funding for the food stamp program. The Senate already passed a farm bill with modest cuts to food stamps. Conference committee negotiations to reconcile the two competing bills have been ongoing since last month.

The perception on Capitol Hill is that House leadership would like to put the farm bill behind it and is even willing to pass a bill with a significant number of Democrats.

The farm bill has been a source of serious embarrassment for the leadership this year. It was the hardline conservative opposition to $20 billion in food stamps cuts that forced House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) to remove the program from the House’s farm bill after it failed in June and come back in September with a bill that nearly doubled those cuts. That bill passed with the minimum number of votes as some moderate Republicans abandoned it.

Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA) suggested recently that House GOP leadership might be willing to push the bill through even if it doesn’t have the support of a majority of the Republican conference.

“It’s not my determination, but I know (Speaker John Boehner) is pushing very hard to get it completed and to get it finally done, finalized, get rid of it,” Latham said, according to CQ Roll Call.

Senate Democrats entered the farm bill negotiations unwilling to bend much on food stamps, calling the House GOP’s bill a non-starter. They’ve held the line during the negotiations themselves, according to sources familiar with the talks, and the final cuts are expected to be $10 billion or lower — much closer to the $4 billion that the Senate passed than the House’s version. Latham had said publicly that he though $8 to $10 billion in cuts would likely suffice to resolve the issue.

It’s also expected that the House GOP’s work-requirement reforms, which outside experts had estimated would kick up to 3.8 million Americans off food stamps, will be either watered down or removed entirely, according to sources. A token reform provision might still be included in any final deal.

But whether a deal can be reached at all is uncertain. House Agriculture Chair Frank Lucas told Politico on Thursday that it would be “very challenging” for the conference to meet his goal of reaching an agreement before the Thanksgiving recess. Member negotiations have stopped for the time being, though staffs are still talking.

Senate Democrats have insisted they won’t come close to the House GOP’s number. If negotiations break down, Democrats seem prepared to blame Republicans for trying to extract what they say are draconian cuts to an entitlement program.

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