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Republicans Reap What They Have Sown with Farm Bill [Commentary]


The House version of the Farm Bill was never going to be popular with Congressional Democrats. It was a bloated giveaway to all the wrong parties, didn’t means test any of the benefits, and cut nutritional assistance by much more than the Senate version of the bill did.

According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the proposed cuts to SNAP would have kicked 2 million people off of food stamps and eliminated free breakfast and lunch programs for several hundred thousand children. Even with all of that, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi predicted that 26 to 40 Democrats from farm states would vote for the bill.

Not that the Republican leadership needed those votes. They have a majority. All they needed was to get all the Republicans in line and the bill would have passed. That didn’t happen.

It didn’t happen because the aforementioned cuts to food stamps weren’t enough for “bah, humbug!” crowd, who wanted even deeper, more draconian cuts. 62 Republicans voted against the bill.

Democrats could have been brought on board, but a Democratic amendment that would have preserved the cost savings, dollar for dollar, of cuts to nutritional assistance, but have them come instead from reduced payouts to big agribusiness was rejected. Immediately thereafter, Republicans signed the death warrant for this version of the Farm Bill. They passed an amendment specifically designed to weaken Democratic support for bill, a so-called poison pill.

Before we detail the contents of the poison pill, it is worth reviewing current policy as to nutritional assistance. In order to receive even three months of food stamps over a three year period, an adult needs to either be working at least 20 hours a week, or participating in a work training program, slots for which are very limited in number and almost always full.

There are situations under which those rules can be waived. They include a temporary disability, like recovering from surgery or a car accident, and having young children but not being able to afford childcare. In addition, states can request a temporary waiver of the rules for specific areas under harsh economic conditions that make finding work especially difficult. Almost every state, including Republican and Democratic governors, have requested such waivers since the start of the economic crash of 2008.

The poison pill amendment would have encouraged states to eliminate all of these waivers and limit food stamps to only parents who qualify for welfare or disability insurance by giving those states half the cash savings from eliminating benefits. Note only parents, not any other adults, regardless of whether they qualify for welfare or disability insurance, not even disabled veterans, would be exempt. And get this; the wording specifically forbade expanding job assistance and training programs.

Republicans are awful concerned to make sure you already have a job before you qualify for food stamps, but when it comes to passing a jobs bill, or funding programs to help you find a job, their concern evaporates.

Congressional Republicans knew very well that their poison pill amendment would weaken Democratic support of the Farm Bill; it was designed to do that. 58 of the 62 Republicans that ultimately voted against the final version of the bill, voted to include the poison pill. They intended to make the Farm Bill fail, and by ensuring that the end product was something antithetical to Democratic principles, they succeeded.

In the end, only 24 Democrats voted for the bill. Even if the full 40 that Pelosi had predicted might support the bill had done so, it wouldn’t have outweighed those 62 Republican no votes. No bill that would appease the pain caucus of the GOP, would have ever survived rectification with the Senate version anyway. The only way forward is to put out a product that a significant number of Democrats can get behind. If you want a Farm Bill, you can blame radical Republicans for not getting you one.

Column: More Sequester, Still No Action

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Gossom and do not reflect Results Radio, Townsquare Media, its sponsors or subsidiaries.

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