After fiery debates on the floor through the afternoon, the House of Representatives passed a bill defunding part of the nation’s food stamps program. The measure passed by a narrow vote of 217 to 210, with 15 Republicans voting against it and zero Democrats voting for it. One lawmaker who voted in its favor argued with MSNBC’s Martin Bashir over which people would get hit from the potential cuts and how those people would be targeted.
“If you’re committing fraud, you’re not going to receive the benefit," said Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican from Maryland. "If you need it, you will. All those women and children, and the working poor, are going to receive the benefit. They aren’t affected at all. This is not an across-the-board cut. This is surgical.”
The bill, which other Republicans have called "draconian," would decrease funding to the nation’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, called “SNAP,” by about $39 billion over the next 10 years, cutting the program by 5%. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that around 3.8 million people will lose access to these benefits.
Republicans voting in favor of the bill have been pushing the claim that the nation’s food stamp program is suffering because of an excess of fraud and abuse, and that their legislation is aimed more at eliminating loopholes rather than cutting people who need the assistance.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which helps administer the program, reported last month that SNAP actually “continues to have one of the lowest fraud rates for Federal programs.” Over the last 15 years, they say, the trafficking rate of food stamps has actually gone down from 4% to about 1%.
“Every American believes a program that big has waste, fraud, and abuse. We need to empower states to go after it,” Harris said to Bashir.
Bashir said, “This is essentially for the working poor. These people are not feckless freeloaders.”
“You are hurting the vulnerable for the sake of beliefs that frankly have no basis in fact,” he said. “The volumes of people that will be hurt are just enormous.”
Harris defended himself and his colleagues, “This discourages fraud, allowing more money to flow to the people who we all want to help. There's no one in the Republican side who doesn’t believe that the food stamp program is important to get to those people who deserve it and need it. This bill doesn’t touch them.”
Watch the entire exchange in the video player above.