The Republican-run House of Representatives voted to cut spending on food stamps for the poor by $40 billion over 10 years on Thursday, defying a veto threat from the White House in the name of fiscal reform.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the driving force behind the legislation, said it was "wrong for working, middle-class people to pay" for abuse of the program, whose costs have skyrocketed in recent years.
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Democrats pointed to nonpartisan estimates that the bill would end benefits to 4 million needy people in 2014.
Representatives passed the bill on a party-line vote, 217-200. Speaker John Boehner said passage would trigger long-awaited negotiations with the Democratic-controlled Senate over a new $500 billion farm bill, already a year overdue.
Senators voted in May for $4.5 billion in food stamp reductions, about 1/10th of the House proposal. With nutrition programs as the sticking point, analysts are skeptical that a compromise farm bill can be written that would pass in the sharply partisan Congress.
Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Democrat-controlled Senate Agriculture Committee, called the House bill "a monumental waste of time" that would never become law.
"We have never before seen this kind of partisanship injected into a farm bill," Stabenow said.
The White House on Wednesday threatened to veto the House bill to prevent damage to "one of our nation's strongest defenses against hunger and poverty."
A near-record 47.76 million people, or one of seven Americans -- about 85 percent of them children, elderly or disabled -- received food stamps at latest count.
(Reporting by Charles Abbott; Editing by Ros Krasny, Gary Hill and Leslie Adler)