$39B food stamp cut clears procedural hurdle in House

As they have over the last week, Republicans defended the cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as a way to trim excess from the rapidly growing program. They also rejected Democratic charges that the cuts would hurt vulnerable Americans.

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"This vital legislation reforms … our nation's nutrition programs, saving taxpayers about $40 billion, while maintaining critical benefits to helping America's neediest families, seniors, children and veterans," House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said.

The bill would eliminate the option states have today of seeking a waiver from rules that require able-bodied adults to work or participate in a job-training program in order to receive extended SNAP benefits. Republicans said ending the waiver would help focus federal benefits on the most needy.

"H.R. 3102 reinforces our country's commitment to those who cannot help themselves, while working to prevent waste, fraud and abuse," Sessions said.

"What is waste, fraud and abuse? It is many, many people who should not be receiving these needy items that should be reserved for those who need it the most. We should not extend those benefits to people who actually can take care of themselves."

Democrats strongly opposed the bill by citing a Congressional Budget Office study showing 3.8 million people would be kicked out of the SNAP program in the first year if the bill were to become law.

"Today, the Republican leadership is bringing to the floor one of the most heartless pieces of legislation I have ever seen," Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said.

McGovern also complained that the bill was not the subject of any hearing or markup in committee. "It was just cooked up in the Majority Leader's office as some sort of Heritage Foundation fever dream," he said, a reference to Majority Leader Eric Cantor's (R-Va.) role in developing the bill.

Other opponents of the bill have said that by ending the waiver, people who can't find work or who live in a state without extra space in job training programs will be left to fend for themselves. House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) noted that many states, including those with Republican and Democratic governors, have said to use the work waiver.

"There's a lot of hypocrisy coming from the other side of the aisle here, because these waivers have been requested by both Republican and Democratic governors," he said.

The rule allows for no amendments to be considered, which means the House will be in a position to hold a final vote on the bill later Thursday.

The rule also governs consideration of two land use bills, one of which will be taken up Thursday evening. That bill is H.R. 1526, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act.