Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) on Tuesday faced tough questions from CNN host Soledad O'Brien for his plan to cut the food stamp program and "hurt people who need food," including 20 percent of his own constituents in Alabama.
Speaking to Sessions in an interview on CNN's Starting Point, O'Brien wondered if cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) should be on the table as part of the so-called fiscal cliff negotiations.
"Absolutely," Sessions insisted. "This month was a record increase in food stamp participation at a time when unemployment is declining."
"But there are people who say if you're doing cuts, you invariably hurt people who need food," O'Brien observed. "It's 61 percent of households in your state have children who are recipients of the food program that they're on."
"Soledad, this program has been growing out of control at an incredible rate and there are a lot of people receiving benefits who do not qualify and should not receive them," Sessions remarked. "No child, no person who needs food should be denied that food. Nobody proposes that. We are talking about an amendment that I offered that would have reduced and closed a loophole of $8 billion when we would spend $800 billion was opposed by saying it would help -- it would leave people hungry in America, but it would have only eliminated abuses in the program."
The CNN host, however, pointed out that the Alabama Republican had voted twice to grow the program and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities had determined that "SNAP has one of the most rigorous quality control systems of any public benefit program."
"People highlight the program as actually not having a lot of fraud," O'Brien explained. "Most people who are on it are not somehow working the system. They're just hungry people."
"That's not accurate," Sessions replied. "They're counting the computer system fraud error rate, but they're not out counting the real people who are filing false incomes or haven't reported changes in their income."
O'Brien continued to press Sessions, noting that "the problem could be in the reverse" because less than 70 percent of the people who qualify for food stamps were using the program.
"I guess when you are thinking of things to cut, people basically say, why are you trying to balance the budget on people who are making under $23,000 a year?" she asked. "I think that range, roughly, is the national average for what a family of four would get on food stamps. So, why not cut something else? There are other things that could be on the table before you pick a program that is feeding the nations poor children."
"I say all programs need to be examined in this government," Sessions shot back. "This government is wasting money every day. There is no doubt about that. And food stamps is a program that was totally exempted from any oversight when it has gone up four times in the last ten years in the amount we spend."
"Two of those times you voted for it, sir!" O'Brien interrupted. "Some people would say it's growing because people are hurting."
"I voted for the [agriculture] bill that had that in it, probably so," Sessions shrugged.
Watch this video from CNN's Starting Point, broadcast Dec. 11, 2012.