Washington Cuts in food programs for the poor are getting support in Congress as an alternative to President Bush's idea of slicing billions of dollars from the payments that go to large farm operations.
Senior Republicans in both the House and Senate are open to small reductions in farm subsidies, but they adamantly oppose the deep cuts sought by Bush to hold down future federal deficits.
The president wants to lower the maximum subsidies that can be collected each year by any one farm operation from $360,000 to $250,000. He also asked Congress to cut by 5 percent all farm payments, and he wants to close loopholes that enable some growers to annually collect millions of dollars in subsidies.
Instead, Republican committee chairmen are looking to carve savings from nutrition and land conservation programs that are also run by the Agriculture Department. The government is projected to spend $52 billion this year on nutrition programs like food stamps, school lunches and special aid to low-income pregnant women and children. Farm subsidies will total less than half that, $24 billion.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said the $36 billion food stamp program is a good place to look for savings.
"There's not the waste, fraud and abuse in food stamps that we used to see. ... That number is down to a little over 6 percent now," he said. "But there is a way, just by utilizing the president's numbers, that we can come up with a significant number there."
Bush is proposing to withdraw food stamps for certain families already receiving other government assistance. The administration estimates that plan would remove more than 300,000 people from the rolls.
Chambliss said minimal changes in all three areas of agriculture spending -- nutrition, farm supports and conservation -- could save what's needed.
The House and Senate plan to vote on initial versions of the budget next week.
Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said food stamps are vital to many Americans, "but like all government programs, there are ways to save money."
Chambliss and other Republicans say they are open to modest cuts in farm programs, such as a small across-the-board cut in all payments to growers.