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POLITICS: White House

White House denounces 'harsh' GOP proposal that would make food stamp spending increase permanent

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Beltway Confidential,White House,Joel Gehrke,Senate Republican Conference,Agriculture,Jeff Sessions,Food Stamps

White House officials accused House Republicans of offering a "harsh and unacceptable" plan for "pulling food off the table" at Thanksgiving by changing the eligibility requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

"Americans do not only care about ensuring their neighbors have enough to eat on Thanksgiving, but at a time when people are about to sit around at the table with their families to celebrate a meal, it hardly seems [to be] the right time for pulling food off the table for millions of our neighbors and fellow Americans," White House economic adviser Gene Sperling told reporters Tuesday.

"There is no reason to be having a conversation about cutting the SNAP program," added White House domestic policy director Cecilia Muñoz, who can't believe that anyone would contemplate cutting food stamp spending. "It does say something about who were are as a society that we would even be having a conversation about really taking food off of the tables of Americans who need this food."

Sperling said food stamp spending needs to stay high because of the weakness of the economy. "It's designed to be something in which more is used at times when the economy is weaker, when more families are in need, and then spending and use falls back as our economy recovers," he said.

The House Republican proposal, offered earlier this year -- it was not a fight the GOP picked at Thanksgiving, as Sperling claimed, although House and Senate negotiators are currently working on a final bill -- would result in a $39 billion spending cut over the next 10 years. The government spent about $80 billion on food stamps in 2013, compared to just $39 billion in 2008. That means that in 10 years, the spending on food stamps would still be higher than the 2008 levels, even though the economy is (hopefully?) going to be better.

In other words, even if the Republican proposal became law, food stamp spending would still see a permanent $2 billion increase over its 2008, pre-recession levels. Maybe the 2008 levels were too low, but if they weren't it's not obviously draconian to hope that food stamp spending would return to pre-recession levels.

“Welfare spending at the end of this year will total out to $217 billion more than welfare spending in 2008," Stephen Miller, a spokesman for Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee, told the Washington Examiner. "If the behemoth welfare bureaucracy were converted entirely into cash it would produce a sum large enough to mail each household in poverty a yearly check for $60,000. These are just some of the facts Mr. Sperling omitted from his presentation. The current welfare bureaucracy slashes wages, penalizes work and shrinks the middle class – and yet this is the uncaring model this administration seemingly wishes to cement in perpetuity.”

It's not clear how much the economy would have to improve for President Obama's team to tolerate a cut to food stamp spending. A new White House report argued that "even in a strong economy, SNAP remains a critical support to children, the elderly, and low-wage workers who struggle to put food on the table."

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