Republicans initially had announced plans to extend for one year the current farm and food programs, which expire on Sept. 30. But GOP leaders pulled that measure from Wednesday's floor schedule amid continued resistance from many conservatives and after Democrats announced opposition to the measure.
Earlier this month, the House Agriculture Committee approved a new five-year farm bill that would eliminate much-criticized direct payments, under which farmers are paid even when they don't plant a crop, to be replaced with new price and revenue support programs. The Senate passed companion legislation in June.
"My priority remains to get a five-year farm bill on the books and put those policies in place, but the most pressing business before us is to provide disaster assistance to those producers impacted by the drought conditions who are currently exposed," House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) said. "The House is expected to consider a disaster assistance package on Thursday, and I encourage my colleagues to support it."
Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the senior Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, opposes the one-year extension, saying it would doom the chances of a five-year farm bill that would make significant changes to much-maligned farm subsidies.
Instead, GOP aides said, the House will take up a much smaller measure aimed at dealing with this summer's drought, the worst in about a half-century. The aides required anonymity because rank and file Republicans had not been briefed on the plans.
Many conservative Republicans were unhappy with the prospect of voting for farm subsidies and were also unhappy with simply renewing the food stamp program, which has grown rapidly in recent years.
Details of the drought relief package were not immediately available.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) signaled that Democrats might be able to support the House GOP move.
"I think that what the House should do is take the provisions we have in our bill that we sent to them, and if they want to do something about drought relief, send that to us," Reid told reporters.