House Republican Budget Whacks Food Stamps And Medicaid

03/17/2015 12:30 pm ET | Updated Mar 20, 2015

WASHINGTON -- House Republicans unveiled a budget on Tuesday that, in addition to repealing Obamacare, reprises many of the safety net cuts Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) proposed in previous years.

In his budget blueprint, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who took over for Ryan as chairman of the House Budget Committee this year, seeks to balance federal spending over 10 years by cutting assistance to the poor while boosting the defense budget.

"Whether we are talking about food stamps, housing assistance or education benefits -- all are made more difficult when Washington forgets the limits of its own understanding and power," Price's outline says. "When that happens, social and safety net programs stop being a bridge to a more secure future and rather become a barrier to success."

Price's budget would cut food stamps and Medicaid in two ways. As Ryan unsuccessfully proposed in previous years' budgets, the proposal released Tuesday would turn funding for Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, informally known as food stamps, into "block grants." Both Price and Ryan modeled their proposals on the welfare reform of the 1990s, which used block-grant funding to prevent federal spending on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program -- the program most closely associated with the term "welfare" -- from rising beyond a fixed amount.

The result has been that TANF spending stayed flat even as millions more Americans fell into poverty and would previously have been eligible for benefits. Food stamp spending, meanwhile, surged to $78 billion last year, thanks largely to the Great Recession throwing millions of people out of work after 2007. The Price budget would prevent another surge in SNAP spending and leave it up to states to decide which people are and aren't eligible for benefits. Currently, food stamps are available to anyone poor enough to qualify, which amounts to 46 million people.

The second way in which the Price proposal cuts SNAP and Medicaid is through numerical reductions in both programs' budgets. Though the budget summary doesn't specify exactly how much to cut food stamps, it calls for $1 trillion less in mandatory spending outside of health and retirement programs -- a category in which SNAP is the largest program -- over the next 10 years. Ryan's budget last year called for SNAP cuts of $137 billion, or 18 percent.

Price's new proposal goes much farther than the food stamp cuts contained in a farm bill Congress approved last year.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, blasted Price's proposal on Tuesday.

"It does nothing to boost the paychecks of working Americans and makes it harder to buy a home," Van Hollen said, referring to the proposal's call to privatize government-backed mortgage companies. "Students will see deep education cuts and college will be less affordable. And this budget takes away the tools that allow people to climb the ladder of opportunity."

The Price budget adds to the dozens of previous House GOP efforts to repeal Obamacare, and also seeks to undo recently imposed limits on military spending.

Even if Congress approves the proposal, its policy changes would not become law; instead, the congressional committees overseeing various aspects of federal spending would begin the process of trying to meet the budget's spending targets. The Republican Senate will be an obstacle to the House budget, however, since GOP senators are moving forward with their own blueprint that does not similarly eliminate the military spending caps. And even if House and Senate Republicans eventually do agree, there is the additional obstacle of President Barack Obama's certain veto of any legislation that undoes his signature policy accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act.

The food stamp cuts in Tuesday's budget proposal are separate from an ongoing "review" of the program by Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that the Price budget would seek $165 billion of savings in non-health, non-retirement mandatory spending over the next ten years. The correct figure is $1 trillion.

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