The House Agriculture Committee refused to reverse any cuts to food stamps as it worked its way through a major new farm bill on Wednesday, rejecting two amendments to soften the cuts and accepting just a handful of other changes as lawmakers pushed ahead to prepare a bill for a full House vote.
In a markup session that lasted all day, the committee stuck closely to a draft bill it released last week that looks to trim $35 billion over 10 years from farm spending and food-stamp programs - legislation that Congress revisits every five years to extend a range of agricultural subsidies and food-assistance programs.
The Senate version of the bill, which passed last month, cuts just $23.6 billion over the same period and enjoyed a strong bipartisan vote of 64-35. The overall bill amounts to nearly $1 trillion in spending over the next decade.
The $11.4 billion difference stems almost exclusively from cuts to the food-stamps program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which, according to the Congressional Budget Office has grown by 70 percent since the start of the recession.
The House panel hopes to cut $16.1 billion in funding from the program, in part to reduce the federal deficit but also to reform the system to correct loopholes and excess spending.
"We are not cutting - we are addressing common-sense areas that are right for reform," said Rep. Timothy V. Johnson, Illinois Republican. "If we don't deal with gaming in the system, the ultimate effect is that ... we're going to bankrupt the system, and we won't be able to have benefits for anybody."
Democrats defended higher food-stamp funding levels, saying they reflected the difficulties in the real economy since the Great Recession of 2008-09.
"The reason SNAP has grown is because the economy is bad shape," said Rep. James P. McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat. "These people who are getting benefits are entitled to them."
Ultimately, the committee voted 36-10 against restoring the food-stamp funding and 28-15 against a second amendment to revert to a plan proposed last year that would cut just $4 billion from food stamps. Rep. Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, supported the cuts to food stamps in hopes of advancing the bill out of committee.
Congress must submit a bill to President Obama by Sept. 30 or watch all farm bill appropriations revert to 1940 levels - the first version of the bill ever passed. Lawmakers have discussed a short-term extension of this deadline, but some worry that it could complicate the process and make the bill harder to pass.
"I think an extension of current farm policy potentially creates more problems than it solves," Mr. Peterson said. "If the House leadership fails to bring up this farm bill before recess, they will jeopardize one of the economic bright spots of our nation's fragile economy."
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