Major Reversal: Food Stamps Blocking Long-Term Farm Bill

As the House and Senate prepare to move their separate versions of the trillion-dollar farm bill through committee next week, it’s important to consider how folks’ perspectives on food stamps have recently changed.  After all, food stamps comprise 80 percent of the spending in the bill.

Last year Heritage Action CEO Mike Needham and Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) explained (sub. req’d) there is an “unholy Washington alliance… between rural lawmakers and their urban and suburban colleagues.”  This alliance “has caused exponential growth in spending by combining farm policy and food stamps in one huge legislative package.”

This needs to change:

Instead of combining farm policy, food stamps, telecommunications, energy, forestry and conservation into a single legislative vehicle, we must begin advancing one issue at a time. Even Americans with differing views on the role of the federal government in U.S. agriculture should agree that any farm bill passed by Congress be a farm-only bill.

Last year, Needham and Stutzman said that it’s “time to have a farm-only farm bill, and move other policies separately.”

Has that time come?

The Washington Establishment certainly hopes not.  They don’t want to reform the farm bill, and they have a big incentive to keep farm policy and food stamp policy tangled up: it helps them get the farm subsidies and food stamp program passed with the votes of lawmakers who would otherwise not feel compelled to do so if they were considered individually!

But in 2013 there is a key difference.  According to the Associated Press, “This year, food stamps are making passage harder.”

In fact, Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union has stated that “It’s probably the largest obstacle that this farm bill faces.”

The “unholy alliance” farm-state lawmakers have counted on for decades is unraveling, not because the Left won’t play ball, but because their constituents are informed and rightly outraged by the dramatic growth, waste and fraud in our nation’s food stamp program.

Conservatives want to rid the food stamp program of fraud and waste, but we believe that the policies coming down from Washington should encourage independence and individual responsibility.  It may be harder for liberals to buy votes that way – but being independent is better for individuals, especially the American taxpayer.

Needham and Stutzman also stated:

15% of the U.S. population is dependent on food stamps. Half of all food-stamp spending goes toward individuals who have been on the program for eight years or more. There can be no doubt that we are in the midst of a dependency crisis, and conservatives especially shouldn’t settle for locking in Obama-era levels of government dependence.

The Obama administration wants to make Americans more dependent on government, not less. Witness its recent decision to gut the federal work requirements for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the program created by the 1996 reform of welfare.

Liberal Democrats want to paint the efforts of conservatives to rein in food stamp spending in an extremely negative light.  To be clear, the supposed savings in the yet-to-be-released bills are all but imaginary – both in terms of food stamps and in terms of farm programs.  Their bills do virtually nothing to cut back spending, as we explained in 2012.  They called for 60 percent more spending than the 2008 farm bill.  Moreover, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that proponents of the farm bills overestimated the “savings” in the bills by $10 billion.  The savings are still just as farcical in 2013, as political director Russ Vought explains.

Thankfully, some people in Washington are starting to see the light.

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15% of the U.S. population is dependent on food stamps.

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The unholy Washington alliance between rural lawmakers and their urban and suburban colleagues must end.

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