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House refuses to appoint conferees on farm bill

WASHINGTON -- Three Upper Midwest senators have been named conferees on the farm bill. But the House Republican leadership's refusal to appoint conferees and a plan for the House to vote on a big cut to the food stamp program means prospects for the bill passing this year have dimmed.

Democratic Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Republican John Hoeven of North Dakota were all named to the conference committee on the farm bill on Aug. 1, the day the Senate left Washington for a five-week recess.

But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, refused to name conferees until the House comes back into session in September, and that probably won't take place until a final decision is made on whether to bring up a nutrition bill that would cut the food stamp program -- now officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- by $40 billion over 10 years.

That bill would probably remove 4 million to 5 million people from the food stamp rolls. House Democrats have called the vote cruel and pointless and all Democrats are expected to vote against it. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said on Aug. 1 that he is not certain the leadership will find 218 Republican votes for it, but he still hopes Congress can finish the farm bill this year.

The Senate farm bill cuts food stamps by $4 billion over 10 years and the bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee would cut the program by $20.5 billion. About 47 million people are now on food stamps at a cost of about $75 billion to $80 billion per year. Republicans say it is too easy to get on food stamps, but Democrats point out that the recession has left many Americans in need of food. Reauthorization of food stamps was made part of the farm bill to give urban legislators a reason to vote for the bill.

The Senate has passed a full farm bill, but the House left out the nutrition title. The two bills have some different provisions that need to be reconciled into a conference report, but the lack of House conferees limits the amount of work the staff of the House and Senate Agriculture committees can do to reconcile the Senate and House-passed bills.