Sen. Bob Casey denounced a House measure that would cut $40 billion from the nation's food stamp program over the next decade while contending that the move was evidence that the Republican Party had been taken over by the "far, far right."
"It is wrong; it is mean-spirited ... it's especially harmful to children when we know that this program has kept, by one estimate, more than 2 million kids out of poverty and lifted more than a million and a half kids out of deep poverty," Mr. Casey said during a lunchtime news conference outside the Allegheny County Courthouse. "It's a purely kind of ideological stunt that we're seeing a lot in Washington."
The Democrat, elected last year to his second term in the Senate, contended that the House vote to cut the food stamp program, called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, was a product of an ideological pattern within the GOP that he lumped with efforts to overthrow Obamacare through threats to shut down the government or refuse to raise the nation's debt limit.
"The far right -- the far, far right -- has taken over the Republican Party in Washington and we're all going to pay a price for that ... [threatened] government shutdown, if the debt ceiling is breached, we're going to pay an economic price," he said. "One party has been taken over by extremists; we all pay a price for that."
Mr. Casey argued that any changes to the health care law were a legitimate subject for debate, but he said that debate should not be linked to a shutdown or the debt ceiling because of the threats that such maneuvers posed to the broader economy.
House Republicans broke with legislative tradition by severing the food stamp program from the overall Farm Bill. They argue that cuts to the nutrition program were warranted because of its significant growth in the years since the onset of the financial crisis. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich regularly denounced President Barack Obama as "the food stamp president" during his bid for the GOP's 2012 presidential nomination.
The House action sets the stage for a House-Senate conference committee to work out a compromise version of an overall farm bill that would reunite agricultural assistance programs with the nutrition aid. But the timing and prospects for success for that committee are clouded by the acrimony over continuing GOP efforts to seek leverage to defund the landmark health care law.
Mr. Casey discussed the budget issue during a news conference called to highlight his support for a measure to alter Defense Department plans to curtail eligibility for some participants in Tricare Prime, a veterans health care program similar to a health maintenance organization. Those affected, including more than 4,000 Pennsylvanians and roughly 170,000 beneficiaries across the country, would be switched to fee-for-service Tricare coverage that would be more expensive for many recipients.
The plan supported by Mr. Casey and other lawmakers would grandfather the eligibility for current recipients who choose to opt into the coverage.
Politics Editor James O'Toole: email@example.com or 412-263-1562.