The House Agriculture Committee leadership released their version of the farm bill late yesterday, and the main difference from the version that passed the Senate concerns food stamps:
The legislative draft envisions reducing current food stamp spending projections by $1.6 billion a year, four times the amount of cuts incorporated in the five-year, half-trillion-dollar farm bill passed by the Senate last month.
Food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, look to be the most contentious issue when the Agriculture Committee begins voting on the bill Wednesday and when the full House begins debating it in the future.
Conservatives in the Republican-led House are certain to demand greater cuts in the food stamps program, which makes up about 80 percent of the nearly $100 billion a year in spending under the farm bill. Senate Democrats are equally certain to resist more cuts in a program that now helps feed 46 million people, 1 out of every 7 Americans.
The $16 billion in cuts over 10 years are far less than what some conservative members of the committee want, as David Rogers explained this week. And that’s already to the right of the $4.5 billion in food stamp cuts in the Senate-passed bill. So cuts are coming to the food stamp program, it’s only a question of how much. The major things that the House conservatives want to do with food stamps are the repeal of “categorical eligibility,” where participation in one welfare program provides eligibility for food stamps, and raising the “asset test” for food stamp eligibility from $2,000 to $5,000 with an exclusion for a vehicle, which is the asset test in Texas.
That this fight on food stamps is happening in parallel with a fight among conservative states on Medicaid should not be seen as an anomaly. Ed Kilgore points out that the resistance to expanding Medicaid cannot be explained by charts and graphs, something wonks on the left have yet to figure out:
But more importantly, we have to remember that this is an ideological and even a moral issue to conservatives, who view dependence on any form of public assistance as eroding the “moral fiber” of the poor (as Paul Ryan likes to put it), and as corrupting the country through empowerment of big government as a redistributor of wealth from virtuous taxpayers to parasites who will perpetually vote themselves more of other people’s money. This line of “reasoning,” of course, would justify the abolition of Medicaid, not just a failure to expand it, but conservatives are careful (and smart) to disguise that ultimate goal and simply suggest we have reached some sort of welfare-state tipping point beyond which we become Greece.
And this is the exact motivation for scaling back the food stamp program. You see it when Newt Gingrich calls Barack Obama “the food stamp President,” or when Allen West says that a nation of slaves is being created. Republicans really believe, or want to believe, that spending money on a safety net for the poor generates a dependency on government, which stifles entrepreneurship and creativity and leads to this parasitical relationship. I would go with “want to believe,” since this analysis allows them to argue without moral compunction for defunding the poor and saving the rich from having to pay.
The only way to fight this moral argument (perhaps morally twisted argument) is with a moral argument from the other side, showing the pain that will be created from locking the poor in a limbo state without health insurance, or unable to provide for their families without assistance. Unless Democrats call out the cruelty of leaving the poor without help or hope, that explains the responsibility we have toward one another, that argues for why we have to treat this community as we would our family and friends, they’re going to run into the brick wall of this carefully constructed conservative ideology.