Republicans in the House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill cutting nearly $40 billion from food stamp programs Thursday, setting up a fight over a key piece of legislation that has historically been waved through without issue.
The House passed its latest version of the farm bill 217-210, without the support of 15 Republicans and with no Democrats. Thursday's version cut $39 billion from SNAP, more commonly known as food stamps, that helps to feed nearly 48 million Americans, a number nearly doubling the cuts from an earlier version of the legislation rejected by the Tea Party wing of the GOP in June.
Republicans say the program has grown out of control, and that the cuts would restore original eligibility limits and ensure participants are truly needy.
The Democrat-controlled Senate passed a version of the bill cutting $4.5 million from the program, while warning the cuts would erode an already weakened safety net for families with children, veterans and the unemployed.
In June, after the the Agricultural Committee passed a version of the farm bill that would cut $20 billion from SNAP that failed on the House floor after conservatives said the reductions didn't go far enough.
Republicans then stripped the SNAP funding from the larger farm bill, a 5-year, $500 million package of legislation that includes subsidies for farmers, agricultural research, conservation, trade and other programs, spinning it off into its own bill.
“This bill eliminates loopholes, ensures work requirements, and puts us on a fiscally responsible path,” said Representative Marlin Stutzman, R-In., who led the effort to split SNAP off from the rest of the farm bill. “In the real world, we measure success by results. It’s time for Washington to measure success by how many families are lifted out of poverty and helped back on their feet, not by how much Washington bureaucrats spend year after year.”
Democrats in the House and Senate slammed Republic efforts to slash the program, saying the cuts weren't smart fiscal policy, but harmful and heartless.
"House Republicans' vote to deny nutrition assistance to hungry, low-income Americans is shameful," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "The Senate will never pass such hateful, punitive legislation."
And in the House, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida lamented what she said was the refusal of Republicans to negotiate.
"I'm certain that we could embrace as House Democrats some measure of cuts," she said. "I mean, every program can benefit from some savings."
"But the first go-round the Republicans' proposed cut was $20 billion," she said. Then they passed an amendment that was $31.4 billion. And now that still isn't good enough for the Tea Partiers. Now we're at $40 billion. What they're saying is that in America it's OK for people to go hungry."