By Erik Wasson - 06/07/12 06:52 PM EDT
Conservative Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have offered amendments to the farm bill that would greatly cut federal spending on food stamps.
At the same time, liberal Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is attempting to restore the $4.3 billion in food stamp cuts already in the bill and the White House is saying that the farm bill's current cut is too much.
Sessions has four amendments to limit eligibility and trim spending more modestly.
On the Senate floor, Sessions argued that food stamp reform is a moral imperative in order to encourage individual responsibility.
"It is time to re-engage the national discussion over how the receipt of welfare benefits can become damaging, not merely to the Treasury but also to the recipient… We need to re-establish the moral principle that federal welfare should be seen as temporary assistance, not permanent support," he said.
An aide said the Sessions reforms are reasonable.
“We are confident that modest and thoughtful reforms to the food stamp program can achieve substantial budgetary savings for taxpayers, while ensuring that fewer dollars are wasted and improperly spent – targeting resources to intended recipients,” Sessions spokesman Stephen Miller said.
One would restore an asset test for eligibility, saving $12 billion.
“Through a system known as categorical eligibility, states can provide benefits to those whose assets exceed the statutory asset limit as long as they receive some other federal benefit. One state went so far as to determine individuals as food-stamp eligible solely because they received a brochure for another benefit in the mail,” said Session’s office.
Another attempts to close a "loophole" that allows individuals whose income exceeds eligibility thresholds to receiving food aid if they receive home heating assistance even if they don't pay for heating.
Another amendment stops states from receiving federal bonus payments for enrolling people in the food stamp program and another requires the government to use a program like the digital E-verify program to make sure illegal immigrants are not receiving benefits.
“This is going to be a big fight,” a GOP aide predicted. He noted that food stamp use has quadrupled since 2001 and spending has more than doubled since President Obama took office. The aide said that cutting $4.3 billion out of a program that is on track to spend $770 billion in 10 years is “laughable.”
Senate leaders hope the 2013 farm bill can be wrapped up by the end of next week, but numerous amendments have been filed to the bill, from one restricting aid to Pakistan to one ending a controversial catfish inspection program.