WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congress headed for the exits Friday no closer to an agreement on a massive five-year farm bill reauthorization, leaving millions of poor and working class Americans in the dark over whether key federal assistance would be slashed.
Despite months of negotiations amongst House Republicans over the $500 billion farm bill reauthorization – which includes federal food stamp funding – the GOP remains no closer to resolving an internal dispute between farm state lawmakers and fiscal hawks bent on cutting spending.
The resulting intraparty discussions have been "lively," House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas told BuzzFeed earlier this week. But lawmakers are no closer to a resolution – despite the fact that the Senate has already passed a bipartisan version of the bill that has wide support within the House from Republicans and Democrats.
Roughly 46.7 million Americans were receiving federally funded food assistance as of June, at a cost of more than $76 billion a year, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
The fight over the farm bill has resulted in some odd bedfellows – on Friday Republican Rep. Kristi Noem and Democratic Rep. Peter Welch met privately with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in his office in the Capitol. Earlier in the week, Welch and Noem penned a column in The Hill pushing for a vote on the farm bill, and Noem has been pushing Cantor for a private meeting for days.
But that meeting did not appear to get the House any closer to a vote: as she exited the meeting, Noem said it "went well," but that there was "no resolution yet."
"We're still in discussions," Cantor confirmed to BuzzFeed as he made a beeline from his office to the House floor. "We're still talking."
Later, in a back-and-forth on the House floor with Cantor, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer urged House Republicans to let the bulk of the legislation move forward.
"We agree on 98 percent," Hoyer said. "Let that move and don’t hold it hostage on the 2 percent on which we do not agree."
Among that 2 percent of the bill opposed by Democrats are sizable cuts to food stamps, which account for roughly 80 percent of spending in the farm bill.
The Senate has passed a version of the farm bill that would cut $4.5 billion in funding to food stamps; meanwhile, the version being toyed with in the house would slash the program by $16.5 billion.
Outside of the Capitol on Thursday, a few Democratic members of Congress joined with advocates to call for a "balanced" farm bill—and to adamantly oppose any cuts to food stamps.
"There's no balance in cutting programs that provide food to people," said Rep. James McGovern of Massachusetts.
Lawmakers of both parties have speculated that Congress will punt on the legislation by authorizing a short-term extension of funding until a long-term solution can be agreed upon—possibly next calendar year.