06.24.2013 0

Farm Bill death is Republicans’ opportunity on food stamps

By Robert Romano

On June 20, the $939 billion so-called “farm” bill — it should really be called the food stamp bill with 80 percent of it is dedicated to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — went down in flames in the House of Representatives, failing by a vote of 195 to 234. The reason?

62 House Republicans found the cuts to food stamps, amounting to just $2 billion a year for an $80 billion a year program, to be simply too small. House Democrats, on the other hand, thought they were too much, and were also upset with an amendment to the bill that would have allowed states to increase work requirements for receiving food stamps.

Turns out when you try to please everybody, you end up pleasing nobody. In the meantime, the program is still growing out of control.

Since 2009, the amount of individuals on food stamps has soared by 15 million to 47 million on the heels of the deep recession and high unemployment, but also a 2008 sweeping expansion of eligibility for the program. That’s a 46 percent increase in the program in just four years.

For comparison, the population has only grown by 3 percent in that time to its May 2013 level of 315.7 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In 2012, Republicans routinely bashed the Obama Administration for the dramatic expansion of the program, at least implying they intended to rein it in and reform the program. Now, with the first farm bill since 2008, the House had — and still has — an opportunity to make good on its word.

The question is what lesson House Republican leadership has drawn from the farm bill’s failure. Was it that the legislation failed to attract enough Republican support? Or enough Democrats?

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor might have an answer. “I’m extremely disappointed that Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leadership have at the last minute chosen to derail years of bipartisan work on the Farm Bill and related reforms,” he said after the failed vote.

So, Republicans were counting on Democrat support — not their conservative caucus — to get the bill across the finish line, implying the goal never was to rein in the program.

Cantor further suggested that any differences between the bills, including the state-determined work requirements, would have been worked out in conference. Is that to suggest that any conservative provisions would have been simply gutted in conference?

Leaving that aside, if a conference was inevitable, what need was there to reach a “bipartisan” compromise in the House version? Why not pass something that was pleasing to the House majority to begin with?

It’s not as if the version they attempted to pass would have had a chance in the Senate anyway, despite the fact there was so little difference between the two versions. The House version would spend about $75 billion a year on food stamps, the Senate $77 billion. That’s a distinction without much of a difference.

Which is why the 62 House Republicans who broke ranks with their leadership, holding out for real reform, are to be praised. If not for their courage, the GOP would be missing yet another opportunity to take on the welfare state.

As Americans for Limited Government Vice President of Public Policy and Communications Rick Manning noted after the farm bill’s failure, “It is time for Congress to begin considering what is in the best interests of taxpayers instead of constantly doling out corporate subsidies and expanding welfare without question.”

Indeed. It is time to stop rubberstamping these government programs. It is time to take a stand.

Robert Romano is the Senior Editor of Americans for Limited Government.

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