Candid Moment: Farm Bill Cannot Pass Without Food Stamps
Next week, Congress will return from its August (and part of September) recess. They will have just a handful of legislative days before their election-related recess to deal with, among other things, the farm and food stamp bill. The Gazette (IA) says lawmakers are “playing politics,” but the screed also has a rare moment of candor from a local politician:
Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, says the farm bill would never garner enough votes to pass without other issues tied to it because there just aren’t enough lawmakers representing rural areas anymore. Our Congress is so parochial in focus that those who represent urban areas cannot see the value in supporting farmers? So much for representing the country as a whole.
Americans and their lawmakers are understandably concerned that tens of billions a year in taxpayer-provided subsidies are going towards an industry that, despite the worst drought in half a century, is expected to reap record profits. When your country is $16 trillion in debt, those things matter.
This isn’t to run down the poor, or those hurt by the recession that Mr. Obama didn’t cause or the recovery that he has done so much to enfeeble. Safety-net benefits and enrollment are supposed to expand or contract with the economy. But under this President there’s been no contraction, even though the recession ended three years ago.
The food-stamp rolls grew by 173,000 in the last month and use is 3.3% higher than a year ago. As recently as 2009 “only” 33 million people took food aid and the program cost $50.4 billion. The food-stamp boom began with the George W. Bush Republicans, who expanded benefits in the appalling 2002 farm bill.
But the supercharger was a 2008 bill out of the Pelosi Congress that goosed eligibility and rebranded the program as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, to reduce the stigma of being on the dole. Then there was the 2009 stimulus, which expanded the program again.
Liberals argued then and still do that food stamps are one of the most effective ways the government can juice the economy. Really, they claim to believe this. The USDA’s Economic Research Service estimates that food stamps have a “multiplier” of 1.79, meaning that every dollar in transfer payments boosts gross domestic product by $1.79. So why not have the feds put everyone on food stamps for three squares a day and really get the economy cooking?
All of this gets us back to Congressman Braley’s claim, which we tend to agree with. Absent what Congressman Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) and Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham described as “an unholy Washington alliance,” these boondoggle programs could not survive on their own merit.