Food Stamp and Farm Bill Excuses and Responses
On June 20, 2013, the House of Representatives voted down the Federal Agricultural Reform and Risk Management Act, the so-called “farm bill,” by a vote of 195 to 234. The bill would have cost an estimated $940 billion over ten years. By comparison, the last farm bill, enacted in 2008, cost $604 billion. That equals a 56% increase in farm and food aid since the last reauthorization. Roughly 80% of the nearly trillion dollar bill is comprised of food stamps and nutrition programs. This is because there are now nearly 48 million individuals on food stamps, compared with 30 million in 2008 and 17 million in 2000. One in seven Americans now collect food stamps. Since the bill failed, the following excuses have arisen from Congressmen to justify their vote on behalf of the legislation:
Excuse: “It’s unfortunate that farm spending and food stamp spending are combined in one bill, but that’s the existing framework and how the bill was presented for me to vote on. I had no choice.”
Response: Congressman Marlin Stutzman proposed an amendment to separate food stamps from the farm programs, but the House leadership would not allow it to come to a vote. It was not allowed to be considered because the Republican Leadership knew it could pass. Each Congressman who voted in favor of “the rule” (H.Res. 271)—the Leadership-written procedural resolution that mapped out which amendments would be offered—blessed this decision. Congressman Stutzman voted against H.Res. 271. Why didn’t more Republicans join him? Because too many Republicans view “procedural votes” as party line votes instead of policy votes. However, in the words of the longest serving Member in Congress, John Dingell, “If you let me write the procedure, and I let you write the substance, I’ll [beat] you every time.” The reason the effort to separate the two issues failed was because GOP Congressmen voted with their Leadership instead of Congressman Stutzman.
Excuse: “Food stamp spending is an entitlement and will continue in the absence of a farm bill. Accordingly, the only way to secure any modest cuts to the program is to pass a new law.”
Response: Food stamps are an entitlement, but they are different than Social Security, Medicare, and other entitlements. Funding for food stamps must be “appropriated,” meaning they are controlled in part by the annual appropriations process by Congress every year. Without a farm bill to reauthorize it and an upcoming agriculture appropriations bill that needs to be passed by the House and signed into law, the food stamp program would grind to a halt. Inaction by the House of Representatives is all that is needed. Now conservatives are not calling for a complete halt of all food stamp spending, but major reforms to the program could be achieved if House conservatives recognized how much leverage they currently possess.
Excuse: “In the absence of a farm bill, farm subsidies revert to ‘permanent law’ established in the 1930s and 1940s, which are much higher and expensive for taxpayers.”
Response: The reversion to “permanent” law is a common scare tactic by proponents of farm subsidies. However, there are some provisions of the current farm statute that would sunset if not reauthorized. Furthermore, reversion is not the only alternative in the absence of a new farm bill. Conservatives are not saying that they want no bill—just not this bill. Congress can and should start over, separate the farm and food stamp portions into smaller bills, and pass a farm reform bill that will get conservative votes to get the federal government out of the subsidy business.
Excuse: “The farm bill is obviously a conservative bill because 172 Democrats voted against it, and President Obama threatened to veto it.”
Response: The Left has long known that it’s best to oppose every penny of reduction to the liberal welfare state with the same decibel that they would oppose a massive roll back—even if it’s a small reduction in the rate of growth to a program and not an actual cut. This ensures that Republicans avoid major reforms. Also, Democrats often oppose legislation that the Republican party sets out to enact. For instance, most every Democrat opposed the Republican Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit in 2003 that levied trillions of unfunded liabilities on taxpayers. Was that fiscally conservative just because Democrats opposed? Of course not.
Excuse: “The bill included a work requirement for all able-bodied recipients of food stamps.”
Response: There is no work requirement in the bill for able-bodied recipients of food stamps. The House-passed Southerland Amendment would have only allowed states to create pilot programs that require work.
Excuse: “The farm bill got rid of all direct subsidies to farmers and put a tight cap on payments to farms.”
Response: The farm bill got rid of “direct payments’’—not all farm subsidies—but replaced these payments with new, more costly subsidy programs that would have effectively guaranteed payments to farmers. In addition, the payment cap is rather narrow and still generous to farmers. As the sponsor of the amendment, Congressman Fortenberry, said on the House floor: “The amendment reduces farm payment limits, capping commodity payments at $250,000 for any one farm. That’s a lot of subsidy.”
Excuse: “The farm bill cuts $33 billion, and those savings cannot be realized without voting for a farm bill.”
Response: It’s not a cut in any real world sense. As stated, the bill includes policies that will cost 56% more than the previous authorization. It is only because the Congressional Budget Office ignores the expiration date of these programs and assumes their continuation into eternity—including the Obama food stamp expansions—that the bill can be judged to “save” $33 billion. This is really just Washington-speak for spending 3.4% less than expected ($940 billion instead of $973 billion)—it’s not a cut.