House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said Thursday that he will move ahead a farm bill markup May 15 despite pressure from the Republican leadership to take more time first and consider tougher changes in the food stamp program to win over conservative votes.
Lucas told POLITICO that he was fully prepared to hold listening sessions first with the Republican whip’s office over the next month. But he wants to keep to his schedule and produce a bipartisan bill together with his ranking Democrat, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson.
“They suggested I take a little more time,” Lucas said of a meeting Thursday with Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and his top staff. “I said I wanted to go May 15 but would be happy to hold the listening sessions to hear what my colleagues think.”
The tug-of-war is reminiscent of last summer, when Cantor first convinced Lucas to delay marking up his five-year farm bill and then joined with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in blocking the bill from ever coming to the House floor.
As the floor leader, Cantor is said to be worried still about the ability to win over conservative support for any farm bill, and Lucas has felt pressure from the leadership to steer more to the right and consider tougher work requirements for food stamp beneficiaries, for example.
The same sort of work requirements are being promoted by the conservative Heritage Foundation, which has close ties to the Virginia Republican’s office. And Democrats see the initiative as a harbinger of a work-and-poverty campaign themes for the GOP going into the 2014 elections.
“I just think that we need to look at all things right now in terms of the imperative to get the fiscal situation straight.” Cantor told POLITICO following his meeting with Lucas. “Certainly there is enough body of evidence that there are error rates and there are other points in these programs that the GAO has consistently pointed out that we can address and actually save some money and make sure the benefits get to the people who really need them and get rid of the abuse.”
Asked if the farm bill markup would go ahead in May, he said:“Mr. Lucas is working on it.”