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Food stamped.

NOT THAT THEY'VE advertised it, but Republicans are gunning for food-stamp recipients.

It's all part of their low-visibility war on the poor. In early May, reports surfaced about the nasty surprise they've planned for poor seniors signing up for the new Medicare prescription-drug entitlement. Turns out that food stamps will be cut proportionally to the cash value of the drugs that seniors no longer have to buy out of pocket. But that was only the latest Republican attack on the program, which serves more than 25 million Americans. An even sneakier assault has been playing out in slow motion through the budget process.

In February, President Bush earned plaudits from a wide range of very surprised observers by including in his budget proposal several billion dollars of cuts in farm subsidies. Many commentators championed his political courage, but savvy observers suspected from the outset that the president's talk of cutting agricultural aid was a charade. Here's why: A budget resolution doesn't specify cuts in programs. Rather, broad instructions are sent to a congressional committee to cut a certain amount of spending from any entitlement program in its jurisdiction. The House and Senate Agriculture committees have jurisdiction over farm subsidies--but also over the federal food-stamp program.

As luck would have it, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Virginia's Bob Goodlatte, is a longtime crusader against waste, fraud, and abuse in the food-stamp program, having for years sponsored legislation to restrict various groups from access to food stamps. Following the release of Bush's budget proposal, Goodlatte signaled that he had no intention of going along with the agricultural-aid cuts, and every intention of foisting required spending cuts onto the food-stamp program instead. In March, his Senate counterpart, Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss, echoed Goodlatte's stated intention to cut food-stamp funding, telling The Associated Press that "we can come up with a significant number there."

On April 12, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns acknowledged that the administration "recognize[d] that Congress may" have other proposals to achieve these savings" and was open to considering "other cost-savings recommendations" besides farm-subsidy cuts. Bob Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that food stamps will end up sustaining between half and all of the total $3 billion over five years that the agriculture committees must cut from their mandatory programs.

As usual, the folks the Republicans want to go after are the ones at the bottom of the food chain.

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Title Annotation:Devil in the Details; food stamps, Republicans plan to snatch from poor elderly
Author:Rosenfeld, Sam
Publication:The American Prospect
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2005
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