House on the Verge of Passing Trillion Dollar Food Stamp and Farm Bill
For nearly two years, conservatives have been calling for the separation of the food stamp program from the farm bill so that both could be adequately reformed, to better serve consumers and taxpayers.
Now it appears the House will side with the status quo and let the explosion of food stamp and agriculture spending continue:
A coalition spanning grocer Kroger Co. (KR:US) to Iowa soybean growers is on the verge of victory with a deal on a five-year agriculture bill in a Congress that can’t seem to agree on much of anything.
The accord, which lawmakers estimate will save $23 billion over 10 years, reflects the clout of urban-rural allies who hung together even when the House of Representatives split them apart, as well as lots of lobbying money. In all, groups pressing for the bill spent more than $100 million in the first nine months of last year.
The bipartisan agreement, announced last night by House and Senate leaders, cuts food stamps, the biggest U.S. Department of Agriculture program, less than Republicans demanded while modifying subsidy programs for crop growers and leaving mostly unscathed companies that provide insurance for farmers.
Of course, all of this backtracking was done with the help of lobbyists spending hundreds of millions of dollars:
Agribusiness, an industry of crop and livestock producers, food manufacturers and dairy farmers among others, spent $111.5 million on lobbying in the same period, more than the defense industry and labor unions, according to the center.
What went wrong?
In an op-ed written in April of 2012, Heritage Action CEO Michael A. Needham and Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) 86% made a then ground-breaking request of Congress that lawmakers change the agriculture status-quo and end the unholy alliance between food stamps and the farm bill (sub. req’d):
For decades, an unholy Washington alliance—between rural lawmakers and their urban and suburban colleagues—has caused exponential growth in spending by combining farm policy and food stamps in one huge legislative package. It’s a practice our nation can no longer afford as we approach $16 trillion in debt. Yet in July the House Agriculture Committee passed a farm bill with nearly $1 trillion in spending, or 60% more than was contained in the 2008 bill (passed by the Nancy Pelosi-led Congress over the veto of then-President George W. Bush).
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.
For a time, and with great effort from conservatives, it seemed this goal was attainable. In June of 2013, the $940 billion food stamp and farm bill did not pass, and Needman said:
Today is a victory for the taxpayer and the free market. Now is the time for the House to recognize what so many others have: The unholy alliance that has long dominated America’s agriculture and nutrition policy must end.
Something big happened in July of 2013:
House Republicans successfully passed a Farm Bill Thursday by splitting apart funding for food stamps from federal agricultural policy, a move that infuriated the White House and congressional Democrats who spent most of the day trying to delay a final vote.
But in October of 2013, lawmakers succumbed to pressure from agriculture lobbyists and Democrats in favor of reinserting food stamps into the bill. They went to conference on the farm bill — a major blunder. We noted in early November:
Now that lawmakers have rejoined the consideration of food stamp policy and farm policy, it’s almost certain that cuts to the food stamp program will be insufficient.
The Senate’s $4 billion cuts do not do nearly enough to eliminate the waste, fraud, and abuse in the system.
Even the $40 billion in House cuts is only tantamount to a 5% cut in a program that has doubled twice in the last decade. From 2008 to 2010 alone, the number of able-bodied adults on food stamps doubled from 1.9 million to 3.9 million according to the Congressional Research Service; this was after the Obama Administration suspended the program’s work requirements.
But then again, as Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) 14% said, “The $40 billion figure [for House food stamp cuts] was a way to get to conference. It wasn’t a real figure.”
Constituents eager to see their lawmaker make a fiscally responsible move had been duped.
Our predictions were correct. The farm bill as it currently stands is a win for liberal Democrats, a loss for Republican lawmakers who didn’t fight hard enough or negotiate well on behalf of their constituents, and a major blow to taxpayers and consumers who have to foot the bill.
Indeed, food stamps are getting a mere 1 percent cut, the proverbial tip of the iceberg for a program that’s grown so rapidly, especially under President Obama. Even the most common sense reforms were rejected in the farm bill. The Heritage Foundation explains that regardless of how much money you have in your bank account or how unlimited your assets are, you can still be eligible for food stamps if your income is low enough. It’s a policy known as “broad-based categorical eligibility.”