WASHINGTON — House Republicans are calling for $34 billion in cuts to the food-stamp program over the next decade, setting up a fresh election-year battle over the federal budget deficit.
Lawmakers said they plan to include the reductions in a package of $261 billion in spending cuts they will propose to replace automatic cuts scheduled to take effect in January.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said the plan is designed to squeeze inefficiencies out of the food-stamp program, which is projected to cost the government about $80 billion this year.
“It’s basically closing loopholes; it’s tightening things up; it’s reflecting the budgetary times we’re in,” Lucas said.
Democrats said such cuts would hurt millions of poor Americans. “We’re literally going to take it out of the mouths of babes,” said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt. “It’s outrageous.”
The plan, sure to stall in the Democratic-controlled Senate, probably will become a campaign issue.
“Everything that happens in an even-number year is always an election issue,” Lucas said. The plan will establish a marker for Republicans in negotiations over what to do about the potential budgetary collision that looms at the end of this year.
About $1 trillion in automatic cuts are set to begin taking effect in January, the outcome of last year’s failure of a budget-cutting supercommittee to agree on a plan to reduce the budget deficit. The Bush-era income tax cuts will expire at the end of the year, and the government once again will be approaching its debt limit.
A budget plan adopted last month by House Republicans orders a half-dozen congressional committees to recommend $261 billion in spending cuts by April 27. Lawmakers aim for the plan to reach the House floor in May. Republicans also are proposing to end Social Services Block Grants, which help states provide a variety of services to low-income Americans, and also to make it harder for illegal immigrants to receive a child tax credit.
“In their zeal to cut taxes for the very wealthy, House Republicans continue to put the burden on the backs of children, the elderly and the disabled,” said Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
Other programs likely to be targeted include federal workers’ retirement benefits, the government’s flood-insurance program, the Obama administration’s health-care overhaul and medical malpractice liability laws.
Food stamp cuts may be among the most contentious proposals. The program grew rapidly after the 2008 financial crisis, with about one in seven Americans now receiving benefits averaging $134 a month. This year’s cost is more than the annual budgets of most federal agencies, and food stamp costs have more than doubled since 2007.
The Republicans’ plan would end a $20 a month increase in food-stamp benefits in the administration’s stimulus plan. It also would clamp down on what Republicans call abuses by state of the program’s eligibility rules.