2013 version of 1980s ‘welfare queen’ is apparently ‘food stamp guy’ who bought crab legs in Texas
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman’s “no” vote against the bipartisan Senate version of the Farm Bill last week may have been foreshadowing the real chances of a bill passing in the House.
Portman offered two reason for voting “no” earlier this month. First, he disagrees with the Senate bill’s language on countercyclical payments. Second, and more telling from the standpoint of “Realpolitik 2013,” he said the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was not cut enough. Known as SNAP, this is the major portion of the nutrition title of the bill, the program we all know in everyday conversation as “food stamps.”
Interestingly enough, the Farm Bill this time wasn’t defeated by GOP members voting “no.” It was defeated because of SNAP-related floor amendments that made the bill so objectionable to Democrats that many of them abandoned support for the entire bill.
One such amendment which passed with GOP support would have required SNAP recipients to be employed. Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained this provision in a blog post:
… this extreme provision would allow states to terminate benefits to households where adults — including parents with children as young as 1 year old and many people with disabilities — are not working or participating in a work or training program at least 20 hours a week. It would not require states to make any work opportunities available and would provide no jobs and no funds for work or training programs. Thus, people who want to work and are looking for a job but haven’t found one could have their benefits cut off. Their children’s benefits could be cut off, as well.
The assault on SNAP was lead by Tea Partiers like U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, (R-Texas). He controlled 30 minutes of the House GOP’s time on the floor yesterday during the Farm Bill debate. As National Journal points out, he made the most of it with his anti-SNAP – and ultimately anti-Farm Bill – rhetoric:
“When we look at the food stamp bill that had 20 percent farm in it…”
“SNAP … has a real snap to it.”
“When I look into the eyes of constituents, who want to provide for their children … and they talk about standing in line, I’ve heard this story so many times … standing in line at a grocery store behind people with a food-stamp car—one individual said, I love crab legs. You know, the big king crab legs. I love those. But we haven’t been able to have those in who knows when. But I’m standing behind a guy who has those in his basket, and I’m looking longingly like, when can I ever make enough again where our family can have something like that, and sees the food-stamp card pulled out, and provided, he looks at the king crab legs and looks at the ground meat, and realizes because he does pay income tax, he doesn’t get more back than he pays in, he is actually helping pay for the king crab legs when he can’t pay for them for himself.”
“From the amount of obesity in this country, by people we’re told do not have enough to eat, it does seem like we can have a debate about this issue without allegations about wanting to slap down or starve children.”
This kind of thinking – if the diatribe above can be considered thought – is what is killing the Farm Bill. For decades, five-year Farm Bills were heavy lifting, but the coalition which existed between agriculture and urban interests was built on the nutrition title. That coalition is apparently not working any longer in the U.S. House. Outside of politics, there are good reasons to tie nutrition programs to our larger national food policy as represented by the Farm Bill. Agricultural interest groups at the national level have a lot of work to do to re-educate Congress on the facts. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives may be beyond reason in its current form.
The problem is: Will today’s Congress listen? Tea Partiers like Gohmert aren’t interested in reason. Their ultimate goal seems to be the complete deconstruction of government. For instance, on SNAP, their argument goes something like this: SNAP has grown since the Great Recession to the point that around 1 in 7 Americans is eligible or using the program – so it must be cut. There is no deep analysis as to the root causes of hunger in America. There is no alternative policy prescription to fight hunger. It’s just “cut ’em off.”
In the place of real data to support their arguments that SNAP is bloated, inefficient and wasteful we get 1980’s era welfare queen anecdotes. One guy in Texas telling a winger congressman that he saw a “food stamp guy” buy crab legs is not a data point. It might not even be true.
If memory serves, there was a time in Congress when the extremists – on both the left and right – were on the fringes. They didn’t run the show and things could eventually get done. Today, the inmates are now officially running the asylum.