House GOP to Push Farm Bill Linking Food Stamps to Job Training

(Bloomberg) -- House Republicans will pursue a law reauthorizing food assistance and farm subsidies without Democratic support after negotiations over changes to the so-called food-stamp program broke down, the chairman of the chamber’s Agriculture Committee said.

The Republican plan will boost job training for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called food stamps, while taking people off the rolls who use state eligibility guidelines to qualify even though they exceed federal asset limits, Representative Michael Conaway, a Texas Republican, said Thursday in Washington.

Thresholds for assets and incomes also will be updated, while raising the top age at which work requirements for recipients kick in -- a provision at which Democrats balked -- remains up for debate, he said.

"They have no interest in negotiation, we’ll have to move forward," Conaway said. "My responsibility now is to get this through the House."

A reauthorization of all U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, which are due to begin expiring on Sept. 30, has been snagged over spending on food stamps, which account for more than three-quarters of the bill’s cost. Democrats are bristling at any cuts to SNAP spending, while Republicans including Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue have said the program encourages a "lifestyle" of government dependency.

Conaway said his food-stamp proposal won’t cut spending on the program. Instead, it will shift money from recipients who have more assets toward putting all recipients on a path to get jobs, which in the end will save the government money.

"This is about creating opportunities for folks to help themselves get off these programs," he said.

The panel’s top Democrat, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, did not immediately respond to Conaway’s announcement. "The Democratic members have made clear that they unanimously oppose the farm bill’s SNAP language as it has been described to them and reported in the press," Peterson said in a statement last week. "I will not be continuing negotiations with the chairman per the unanimous request of all Democratic members of the committee."

One provision pushed for by the White House -- a so-called "Harvest Box" plan to replace some SNAP funding with surplus U.S. farm goods -- was not in the bill.

The so-called farm bill faces a very different political dynamic in the Senate, where at least nine Democratic votes will be needed for a plan to succeed.

Conaway said he was confident differences between the chambers could be ironed out in a conference committee that would meet to craft a final law. Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, said Wednesday a bipartisan bill will be necessary to gain approval in his chamber.

The House, where simple majorities can pass legislation, tends to be more "bushy tailed" in pursuing partisan paths, Roberts told reporters. "The House will set its own path; we need a path to 60 votes," a super-majority that requires bipartisan support, he said.

The Senate Agriculture Committee also hopes to draft its bill in April, Roberts said, though he was less committed to a timeline than Conaway. "We need the time to get the bill right," he said.

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