The measure, pressed forward by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., would cut $4 billion annually for 10 years — about 5 percent — to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps.
Republicans say the cuts are warranted because food stamp spending has swelled to $80 billion in 2012 from $35 billion in 2007. And with one in seven Americans — about 48 million — now receiving government food subsidies, Republicans say spending has been inflated by freeloaders and by states that have expanded the program's rolls to undeserving recipients.
Cantor vows that "no individual who meets the income and asset guidelines of the [food stamp] program and is willing to comply with applicable work requirements will lose benefits as a result of these reforms."
But Democrats say the sluggish economy and high unemployment — not fraudsters or those too lazy to find work — are the main reasons for the record high number of Americans receiving food stamps.
"What the House Republicans are saying is this: get a good paying job or your family will just have to go hungry. But there aren’t enough good paying jobs," Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said on the Senate floor Wednesday.
She added Cantor's bill adds "insult to injury" by cutting funds for job training.
"The reality is that most people in America are still struggling to get back on their feet from the recession. There still aren't enough jobs for every person who needs one."
Stabenow, as chairman of the Senate's agriculture committee, in June shepherded passage of a bipartisan farm bill that called for $400 million in annual food stamp cuts.
The White House on Wednesday also condemned the House bill, saying it would weaken "one of our nation’s strongest defenses against hunger and poverty."
The administration urged Congress to pass a comprehensive farm bill that included funding for food stamps and farmers aid, as has been tradition since the 1970s. The House cuts are double what the chamber's GOP called for two months ago in a failed farm bill. Cantor proposed the deeper spending reductions after conservatives in his ranks complained the initial bill's cuts didn't go far enough.
Cantor's bill would close what Republicans call "loopholes" that allow states to offer benefits to some individuals and families above the program's income limits. And it gives states greater flexibility in requiring able-bodied parents to take part in work and job training as a condition for receiving aid.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that up to 3.8 million people could lose their food stamp benefits in 2014 if the bill became law. That includes about 1.7 million able-bodied adults, who would be subject to more strict work requirements after three months. The other 2.1 million would lose benefits though the elimination of so-called categorical eligibility, a method used by many states that allows people to automatically qualify for food stamps if they already receive other benefits.