Now that the House has cut food-stamp funding from its farm bill, the chamber's Republican leaders who pushed the move vow that they will give the nutrition program appropriate attention in a separate bill later this year.

But liberal groups and anti-hunger activists worry the two-bill approach leaves a program that almost 50 million Americans depend on vulnerable to damaging cuts and restrictions.

"Splitting the farm bill and paving the way for the House to pass a more draconian [food stamp]-only bill in coming weeks would be the latest demonstration of how dysfunctional the House is becoming," Robert Greenstein, president of the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, blogged Friday. "Congress should go back to producing legislation that covers agriculture and nutrition together and can pass both chambers because it is bipartisan and moderate."

The issue is far from settled. While the House on Thursday narrowly passed a controversial food stamp-less farm bill by 216-208 vote mostly along party lines, the Senate weeks earlier cleared a version that included food stamp funding. The disparity in the bills mean the two chambers will either hammer out a compromise version or punt the matter until next year, with the latter scenario meaning food stamp funding likely would continue at current funding levels temporarily.

Without the protection afforded by a long-term permanent bill, food-stamp advocates say the program would be an easy target for House conservatives eager to chip away at its funding.

Food-stamp backers fear a repeat of the 1996 farm bill, which reauthorized food stamp funding for only two years while many agriculture programs were renewed for seven years. When food stamp funding expired, a then-Republican-run Congress was able to push through reforms easier than would have been possible if the program had still been attached to the farm bill.

But House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., has promised to quickly and diligently work on a separate food stamp bill. And he added nutrition funding could be reinserted into a final bicameral compromise.

"I commit to you I'll work on that [food stamp] piece as hard and as diligently as we can," he said Thursday.