House Takes Action on Food Stamp Cuts, Continuing Resolution

On Thursday the House of Representatives (in a narrow, 217-210 vote) passed a bill designed to curtail spending on food stamps. Policy changes incorporated in the bill would cut spending on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs by $39 billion over the next 10 years, an approximately 5 percent reduction compared to current Congressional Budget Office spending projections.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) issued a statement criticizing the spending cuts, but acknowledged that the bill’s passage could allow House and Senate conferees (those from the House have yet to be appointed) to move forward on extension of nutrition and farm programs that are set to expire Sept. 30. Rumors circulated this week regarding a two-year extension of the farm bill, but House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) reiterated that he is still committed to passing a five-year farm bill this year.

Both the Senate and House versions of the farm bill would continue current levels of funding for the USDA Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) program ($200 million and $34.5 million, respectively). Both versions would also create a new USDA under secretary for trade. In addition, the House version includes placeholder language regarding country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for meat products (a potential legislative option for resolving the dispute with Canada and Mexico over the U.S. statutory requirements for COOL). However, these provisions depend upon the ability of Congress to reach a consensus on more controversial policy and spending provisions included in the farm bill.

On Friday the House approved (on a vote of 230-189) a Fiscal Year 2014 continuing resolution that would fund the federal government through Dec. 15 at current-year levels (keeping sequestration-imposed reductions in place). The resolution provides funding for MAP and FMD at the existing levels noted above, subject to approval of a new farm bill or an extension of current law.

While approval of the continuing resolution is a key step toward preventing a government shutdown at the end of this month, it is important to note that the version approved by the House eliminates funding for the Affordable Care Act. When the Senate considers the legislation next week, it is expected to restore funding for the Affordable Care Act before returning the issue to the House. With only 10 days remaining before the start of the new fiscal year, Congress has very little time to come to agreement on a funding measure in order to avoid the Oct. 1 shutdown.