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House Republicans eye big cuts in food stamps to help Pentagon

Republicans controlling the House are eyeing big cuts to food stamps as they piece together legislation to trim $261 billion from the federal budget over the next decade, hoping to forestall major Pentagon cutbacks.

The cuts to food stamps would reduce the monthly benefit for a family of four by almost $60, repealing increases that were enacted three years ago as part of President Obama's economic stimulus. The changes would also force up to 3 million people out of the program by tightening eligibility rules, the administration estimates.

The food stamp cuts would total $8 billion over the coming year and $34 billion over a decade. The program has been expanded greatly over the past few years -- enrollment tops 46 million nationwide, up from about 33 million in 2009 -- and now costs about $80 billion a year. The average monthly benefit for a family of four is about $500, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal research and advocacy group.

Food stamps are just one of the cuts Republicans want to muscle through the House as a follow-up to the tightfisted GOP budget plan approved last month. That measure is nonbinding, but it instructed six House committees to come up with spending reductions as an alternative to across-the-board cuts scheduled to slam both the Pentagon and domestic agencies in January. Those required cuts are a consequence of the failure of a budget "supercommittee" to agree on a deficit-reduction plan last year.

House panels are producing legislation this week as the first step in implementing the GOP's budget plan, starting with Judiciary Committee action Tuesday on a proposal that would sharply limit damage awards in medical malpractice lawsuits.

Today, the Ways and Means Committee will weigh in with provisions to make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to claim refundable child tax credits by requiring them to have Social Security numbers to prove they are citizens or legal workers.

Republicans say the cuts to food stamps would be modest when compared with the explosive growth of the program in recent years. Costs have more than tripled in the past decade, going from $21 billion in 2002 to $76 billion last year, with participation rising from 19 million people 10 years ago to more than 46 million at the beginning of this year. The GOP plan would lower projected costs by about 4 percent.

More controversial are rule changes that the administration says would force 3 million people off food stamps next year by tightening rules that require most recipients to have no more than $2,000 in savings.

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