The move by the U.S. House last week to cut food stamp aid out of the farm bill legislation may have been mostly symbolic, but that doesn’t make it any less outrageous.
Without a single Democratic vote, Republicans blew up a nearly 50-year-old bipartisan marriage that joined food assistance for the poor with subsidies for agricultural interests.
After taking the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program off the table, the House proceeded to pass a bill loaded with goodies for farm businesses.
It expands crop insurance, includes unnecessary sugar subsidies, sets new profit margin insurance for dairy farmers and authorizes “shallow loss” entitlement programs that compensate farm businesses with taxpayer checks if their income drops as little as 5 percent.
The message is this: If you’re a wealthy corporate farmer, the U.S. House will take care of you no matter what. If you’re poor, or down on your luck, you could be in trouble.
Republicans said they would take up the matter of food stamp aid in a separate bill.
And indeed, with a more trustworthy and functional Congress, separating farm subsidies and food stamp aid would be worth a discussion.
But there is little reason to think that the aim of the Republican majority is anything other than to gut the food stamp program, using a re-authorization deadline of Sept. 30 as leverage.
The U.S. Senate has passed a version of a farm bill that includes food stamp aid.
It would be comforting to think of the House bill as merely a step toward a compromise, except that House leaders reportedly are insisting they won’t even go to a conference committee unless the Senate agrees in advance to harsh cutbacks in aid for the hungry.
The extent to which ideologues rule in Congress is frightening.
Many Republicans are up in arms over the growth of the food stamp program during the Great Recession. The $80 billion program now serves one in seven Americans.
But three-quarters of the households receiving food stamp assistance include a child or someone who is elderly or disabled.
In children, the links between good nutrition and brain development are well established. America cannot afford to be stingy with food aid if it wants a productive workforce in the future.
Politicians who want to whittle down the food stamp program are often the same ones who support “business-friendly” policies aimed at keeping paychecks low and stagnant.
If Republicans want to move people off food stamps, they should support President Barack Obama’s call for an increase in the minimum wage.
Obama said earlier he would veto a bill that omits funding for food nutrition programs, which the House bill does.
The actions of the House Republicans are infuriating because passage of a farm bill already is long delayed.
It is difficult to see where Congress goes from here.
The Senate must stand its ground and halt this latest attack on low-income Americans. And then House leaders must dig down deep and muster the votes to pass a credible farm bill.