The chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Marcia Fudge, signaled Thursday that she is prepared to make new concessions on food stamps to advance Farm Bill talks with the Senate.
But having met face to face with Majority Leader Eric Cantor this week, Fudge, a Democrat from Ohio, said she came away more skeptical that the Virginia Republican is willing to move from his own positions to get a deal.
“He doesn’t want a bill,” Fudge told POLITICO of their Tuesday meeting. “Just in terms of our discussion, it was clear to me, it was my sense that he really does not want a bill.”
As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, Fudge had opposed the initial $20.5 billion package of food stamp savings reported by the panel as part of its farm bill in June. But she said she was now willing to consider supporting the savings as a way to get to conference with the Senate, if the Republican floor amendments — including one promoted by Cantor — are first pulled out.
“I would consider voting for that bill, yes,” Fudge said. “I am willing to make concessions to get [the farm] bill done. I don’t know how we separate the nutrition portion from the farm bill portion. However, it is my sense that [Cantor] does not want a bill for whatever reason. That’s how I feel.”
Fudge’s comments are significant for two reasons. First, because of her standing among Democrats, she is someone who could genuinely help to shift votes toward a compromise. Second, the fact that Fudge came away so frustrated — after seeking out Cantor with the help of Ohio Republicans — adds to the perception among many farm state Republicans that the majority leader is slow-walking talks with the Senate.
So much so that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has begun to reach out to the major players on the farm bill in recent days to assure them that the House will be prepared to appoint conferees early in September when lawmakers return from the August recess.
This reassurance is important if the top members of the House and Senate Agriculture committees are to use the intervening time effectively to begin exploring compromises. These “pre-conference” talks got off to a rough start with sniping between the staffs aggravated by Senate doubts over whether the House will ever go to conference. But Boehner appears to have calmed the waters — for the moment.