The House of Representatives voted Thursday evening to approve about $40 billion worth of cuts to food stamps over the next 10 years, although the bill must be reconciled with a Senate-passed measure that proposed just $4.1 billion of cuts over the same period of time.
"This bill makes getting Americans back to work a priority again for our nation's welfare programs," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, wrote in a statement after the vote. "While we work to keep these programs strong and sustainable, a growing economy is the best weapon we have against poverty and hunger - and we're going to keep working on solutions that create new jobs and expand opportunity for all Americans."
The bill, which is formally known as the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013, passed 217-210 but did not win the support of any House Democrats, who contend nearly 4 million Americans would lose their food assistance if the legislation becomes law. Fifteen Republicans also opposed the measure: Reps. Shelley Moore Capito, Mike Fitzpatrick, Jeff Fortenberry, Chris Gibson, Michael Grimm, Richard Hanna, Walter Jones, Peter King, Frank LoBiondo, Patrick Meehan, Gary Miller, Christopher Smith, David Valadao, Frank Wolf and Don Young.
Without the reforms, food stamp spending over the next decade is projected to total $764 billion. Even with the House's cuts, taxpayers will contribute about $725 billion to SNAP over the next 10 years.
"Do we need to bring down the deficit? We do. Do we need to do it on the backs of the poor? We do not," House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said during debate on the floor leading up to the vote. "Instead we ought to be helping Americans find jobs and access opportunities so they will no longer need SNAP assistance."
The measure that was passed in the Senate is a traditional Farm bill, the primary agricultural and food policy measure in Congress, generally passed every five years. Traditionally, it includes funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known widely around Washington as SNAP. But after the House failed to produce enough support for a measure that combined the two issues, House Republicans split the farm title from the nutritional title, enraging most congressional Democrats.
The Farm portion of the legislation passed the House on July 11. The Senate passed its $955 billion combined farm bill in a bipartisan vote June 10, 66-27. That bill must be reconciled with the House-passed farm bill and today's nutritional assistance measure.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that the House GOP's vote was "shameful" and would deny nutritional assistance to hungry, low-income Americans.
"The Senate will never pass such hateful, punitive legislation," Reid, D-Nev., stated.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the chair of the Senate committee on Agriculture, said she hoped that the House vote would lead to a productive, bipartisan conference where lawmakers can negotiate a final product.
"The good news is now that this vote is behind us, we are close to the finish line," Stabenow, D-Mich., wrote in a statement after the vote. "If House Republican leaders drop the divisive issues, appoint conferees and work with us in a bipartisan way, we can finalize a farm bill that creates jobs, reforms agriculture policy, and reduces the deficit by tens of billions of dollars. It's time to get a comprehensive farm bill done to give farmers and ranchers the certainty they need to continue growing the economy."
The current farm bill expires September 30.