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Republicans Pass 'Twinkie Subsidy' In Tax Break Package (VIDEO)

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WASHINGTON -- Democrats charged Republicans with passing a "Twinkie subsidy" in a package of tax breaks Thursday that will add $304 billion to the deficit over 10 years.

The subsidy is actually a break for companies that donate unsold food to food banks that cannot be marketed for various reasons, but remains "wholesome." Such food can be past its expiration date, have damaged packaging or just be out of season, such as Halloween candy as Thanksgiving approaches. It has to be edible, but not necessarily healthy.

The tax break, worth about $2 billion over a decade, allows companies to claim up to twice the cost of the donated food.

Democrats supported the idea of encouraging donations to help feed the hungry, but objected that the measure allows corporations to use the tax break as a way to unload aging junk food.

"This bill ... comes out for an average cost of about $200 million a year," said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas). "That's what we're being asked to pay for this.

"I don't know how much of the $200 million is stale potato chips and Twinkies, and sugary drinks and candy, but a portion of it is," he said. "I think we have to make choices as to whether we ought to be subsidizing those things, or we ought to be using that to improve our schools and for other purposes."

Republicans countered that the standards for donated food under the tax break are the same as the standards for items people can buy with food stamps. They also warned that poor people rely on donations of junk food.

"Some of the food you're referencing as not wholesome is used by charitable organizations for children and their birthday parties," said Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.). "If you want to get to the face of the people you want to impact by regulating a big, bureaucratic, one-size, mandated type of menu, understand you will impact other people. And you will impact children and their birthday celebrations. I don't think the gentleman from Texas wants to do that."

The measure passed the Ways and Means Committee on a straight party-line vote, but committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) did admit that Twinkies are not the most natural of foods.

"I thought Twinkies had a half-life longer than most of us at this table," Camp said.

Watch the great Twinkie debate, above.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

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