Cantor Unsure Budget Will Ever Go to Conference

National Journal

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says he is unsure whether the GOP-led House will ever agree to go to a budget conference with the Senate, and Friday he also indicated the House will not start negotiations with the Senate on a farm bill until passing its own split-off version of a food-stamp bill.

The Virginian's remarks came after the House voted 221-207 to pass its proposed new national education policy to update and overhaul the No Child Left Behind Law. Not a single Democrat supported the legislation to give local governments more power to decide how to improve schools, while reducing federal control.

The House version is not expected to gain traction in the Senate.

Just moments afterward, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., pressed Cantor during a floor discussion on whether Republicans ever plan to go into budget negotiations with the Senate, and how soon House Republicans would be ready to begin a conference also on the farm bill.

Hoyer noted the August recess is just two weeks away, and the new fiscal year arrives on Oct. 1. The Senate and House are in legislative session just 17 days between now and Oct. 1.

"We don't want to go into a discussion if the bottom line is we have to raise taxes," Cantor responded, speaking of of budget talks. He added, "Until we get beyond that, I'm not so sure there is going to be a resolution as to a budget conference."

Hoyer then also pressed Cantor as to whether GOP leaders have any specific plan for keeping the government operating after Sept. 1 without agreement on 12 annual spending bills – including whether efforts are underway to craft a short-term funding bill, known as a continuing resolution.

Cantor did not speak specifically about a possible CR, but said, "We are looking forward to the legislative activity this month," which he said would include appropriations bills.

The House has already passed three of the annual spending bills, he noted, and would consider a Pentagon spending bill and perhaps other next week. He noted the Senate has "not even begun" passing its appropriations bills—though it does expect to take action next week on its version of a Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development spending bill.

Hoyer then asked Cantor about whether House Republicans are ready to go to a conference on the farm bill, which the Senate has voted to do.

Both chambers have passed versions of the five-year authorization bill. But Republicans stripped food stamps and nutritional programs from the House version—saying last week they wanted to address that portion in a separate measure. But Hoyer noted Friday that Republicans still weren't announcing any scheduled vote next week.

"We intend to proceed deliberately in looking at policies that makes sense in reforming these programs," said Cantor, saying that would be done with an eye to making sure this nutritional assistance continues for those in need, as well.

Hoyer responded, "I tell you, we're running out of time, Mr. Leader." 

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