By Emily Stephenson
April 18 (Reuters) - A U.S. congressional panel approved
about $33 billion in cuts over 10 years from food assistance
programs in a partisan vote t h at signaled Republican members'
preference to trim social programs instead of farm programs or
defense spending this year.
The cuts advanced by the House of Representatives
Agriculture Committee on Wednesday are expected to die in the
But the vote done by voice, in which several Democrats
uttered irritable 'nays', showed that Republicans will push
domestic spending cuts over defense cuts or tax hikes as they
try to replace automatic cuts that take effect in January.
The committee's proposal to tighten rules for qualifying for
the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) and
repeal a 2009 increase to the program instead of reducing
subsidies for farmers also could show Republican priorities for
a farm bill rewrite due this year.
"I would contend this entire process is a waste of time,"
Representative Collin Peterson, the committee's top Democrat,
said in opening remarks.
"Taking a meat ax to nutrition programs that feed millions
of hard-working families in an effort to avoid defense cuts is
not a serious way to achieve deficit reduction," he said.
Budget writers want to craft a plan that avoids about $98
billion in across-the-board, automatic cuts triggered by the
failure of the debt-reducing "supercommittee" last year.
The House-passed budget from Representative Paul Ryan
directs six committees to find $261 billion in savings over 10
years. Republicans hope to show voters that they are serious
about reducing the size of government and slashing the federal
budget deficit ahead of the November elections.
The Ryan plan placed the biggest share of the cuts in the
hands of the agriculture committee and required it to identify
savings to be realized when it writes a new farm bill this fall.
Ryan suggested much of the savings could come from rolling
back farm subsidies and crop insurance, programs that are
popular in farm states.
The committee instead focused on food stamps, limiting
so-called "categorical eligibility" to only households receiving
cash assistance through other low-income programs, scrapping an
inflation adjustment applied to funds for nutrition education
and other changes.
(Reporting By Emily Stephenson)
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