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Food Stamp Cuts Are On Table

Still another House provision would roll back a court-ordered expansion of foster care support, denying foster care payments to relatives who take in children removed from their parents' homes by court order. That provision would reduce the coverage of foster care payments to about 4,000 children a month and cut $397 million from the program through 2010, the CBO said.

"Why would we want to do anything to discourage a family member from taking in a child who has been abandoned or neglected by his birth family?" asked Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-N.M.), who has told House leaders she cannot support the legislation.

House GOP leaders say the broad measure would root out government inefficiency and waste, while confronting the hard choices posed by the stubbornly high budget deficits and the costs of war and natural disasters. Even $50 billion is just a 0.6 percent nick out of the $7.8 trillion in federal entitlement spending expected over the next five years.

"We're cutting, but we're also changing things to try to make them fit today's needs better," House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said yesterday.

But some Republicans worry that social service cuts, though relatively small, might have outsized political ramifications, especially when Republicans move in the coming weeks to cut taxes for the fifth time in as many years. Those tax cuts, totaling $70 billion over five years, would more than offset the deficit reduction that would result from the budget cuts.

"The problem is the interrelationship between cutting taxes, which no matter what you do will be viewed as cutting taxes for the rich, and reducing programs for the poor," said moderate Rep. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.). "It's that simple."

When Bush secured the restoration of food stamps for thousands of legal immigrants in the huge 2002 farm bill, he pointed to the provision as proof that the measure was a "compassionate bill."

At $844 million over five years, the House's proposed food stamp cuts would account for less than half a percent of the total food stamp budget over that time. But Jennifer Ng'andu, a health and social policy analyst at the National Council of La Raza, highlighted the symbolism of the provision: It is the only item in the budget measure targeted at immigrants.

"Going back on this is a reversal of all the achievements Bush has made with immigrants," she said. "These are lawful residents, good enough to die for our country in Iraq but not good enough to get food stamps."

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