A Friday colloquy -- what the rest of us call a conversation -- on the House floor between House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer helps highlight the kind of holes they like to dig in the House of Representatives and the unwillingness to stop digging.
Simply put, when it comes to conferencing the farm bill, they don't want to do it. When it comes to passing the nutrition title, they don't know how to do it.
Since the House passed its farm-only bill earlier this month, Cantor and others have used words like "urgency" and "dispatch" to describe the speed in which House Republicans plan to bring reforms to nutrition programs to the floor and pass them. In responding to Hoyer, Cantor replied, "It is our hope that we can get a nutrition bill to the floor because we strongly believe that the programs under those titles provide a safety net to the country's most vulnerable, are something important that we maintain and we implement the kind of reforms to those programs that have long been called for by the GAO and others so that we can make sure of the efficient flow of dollars to those beneficiaries who need it most."
Hoyer was inquiring about when farm-bill conference talks are going to start. In that legislative manner that is used on the House floor, Hoyer told Cantor he was "perplexed" over the lack of movement to conference the farm bill with the Senate "because a few weeks ago you told me that the reason we passed the farm bill without the provision for nutrition, which had been there for half a century, was so that we could go to conference," Hoyer said. "Well, now we're there, but there's no motion to go to conference."
Cantor retorted, saying that the House will move deliberately to reform the nutrition programs to make sure the most vulnerable get the relief they need while dealing with the fiscal challenges facing the country. Those deliberate reforms fall somewhere between the $20.5 billion in SNAP cuts over 20 years approved by the House Agriculture Committee and the $130 billion championed by the House Budget Committee by block granting the program and sending the money directly to the states to manage.
Hoyer noted there are only 17 days left between now and Sept. 30, the expiration of the latest extension of farm programs from the 2008 farm bill. The nutrition bill isn't expected to come up next week. Congress is on break in August.
Cantor said he wanted to correct the record, saying, "I said it was our intention to act with dispatch to bring to the floor a bill dealing with the SNAP program, that portion of which was traditionally the farm bill, and we intend to be bringing that vehicle to the floor at some time in the near future."
Cantor added there continues to be legitimate justification for splitting the farm bill that currently cannot be conferenced. "The gentleman heard what I said before," Cantor said. "The marriage of those two bills and policies was done in an arbitrary fashion 50 years ago, as he indicated. There is no policy reason for that to be done. And we're trying to get down to what policy works and the reform of making sure that we pay attention to the efficacy of the programs, getting the dollars to the people who need it, and doing so in an efficient manner takes some deliberative approach. That is why members on the majority side of the aisle felt very strongly that we should act in the way we did. And we intend to bring a nutrition title to the floor."
Cantor can argue that the last 50 years of farm and nutrition policy was arbitrary, but it apparently worked well enough to complete legislation. Cantor and company instead appear unwilling to conference the bill they passed and appear incapable of finding a pathway for passing the one they didn't.
Thanks to Farmpolicy.com for highlighting the colloquy transcript. http://farmpolicy.com/…
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