The Republican-run U.S. House of Representatives voted to cut spending on food stamps for the poor by US$40 billion over 10 years on Thursday, defying a veto threat from the White House in the name of fiscal reform.
House majority leader Eric Cantor, the driving force behind the legislation, said it was "wrong for working, middle-class people to pay" for abuse of the program, whose costs have skyrocketed in recent years.
Democrats pointed to nonpartisan estimates that the bill would end benefits to four million needy people in 2014.
Representatives passed the bill on a party-line vote, 217-200. Speaker John Boehner said passage would trigger long-awaited negotiations with the Democratic-controlled Senate over a new $500 billion farm bill, already a year overdue (all figures US$).
Senators voted in May for $4.5 billion in food stamp reductions, about a 10th of the House proposal.
With nutrition programs as the sticking point, analysts are skeptical that a compromise farm bill can be written that would pass in the sharply partisan Congress.
Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Democrat-controlled Senate agriculture committee, called the House bill "a monumental waste of time" that would never become law.
"We have never before seen this kind of partisanship injected into a farm bill," she said.
The White House on Wednesday threatened to veto the House bill to prevent damage to "one of our nation's strongest defenses against hunger and poverty."
A near-record 47.76 million people, or one of seven Americans -- about 85 per cent of them children, elderly or disabled -- received food stamps at latest count.
-- Charles Abbott reports on U.S. federal farm and food policy for Reuters from Washington, D.C.