Several weeks ago the farm bill was moving swiftly through both chambers of congress and was on the fast-track to passing, but then House Majority Leader Eric Cantor put a hold on the bill so he would have time to assess the political situation, saying he wanted to "push the pause button."
Following a weeks-long intermission, a new version of the farm bill emerged on Monday that includes a massive cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program -- commonly referred to as food stamps -- that would push as many as 1.8 million people off the rolls including 280,000 school children.
The legislation would restrict categorical eligibility to only households receiving cash assistance. Based on data from the Department of Agriculture, CBO estimates that about 1.8 million people per year, on average, would lose benefits if they were subject to SNAP’s income and asset tests. In addition, about 280,000 school-age children in those households would no longer be automatically eligible for free school meals through their receipt of SNAP benefits. Assuming enactment on October 1, 2012, CBO estimates that this provision would lower direct spending by $11.5 billion over the 2012-2022 period.
And why exactly do House Republicans want to cut billions from the SNAP program?
To pay for a new crop insurance subsidy.
The Republican leadership in the House of Representatives is putting their version of the Farm Bill up for a vote this week in the House Agriculture Committee. The bill provides record levels of spending—an eye-popping $9.5 billion over 10 years—for an entirely new agribusiness subsidy under the guise of crop insurance. The bill finally ends the antiquated and highly suspect crop subsidies to help pay for the massive new crop insurance program, yet the bill slashes $16 billion from one of the most effective antipoverty programs in our nation, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, to fund the new insurance spending.
If it means fewer people will go hungry, or that the price of groceries will stabilize because farmers are insured against the financials hardships that climate change will bring, great, but cutting food stamps to pay for it will accomplish nothing. Congress could alternatively tax sugary drinks to pay for such a subsidy, but you know, that would just be socialism. As if a new agribusiness subsidy isn't.
More from Charles Pierce
Yes, what's happening with the Farm Bill in the House of Representative is a moral disaster A $9 billion new subsidy that is paid for by cutting two million families off the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program? In the middle of an ongoing recession and with eight percent unemployment? Anybody who votes for this and insists on still calling themselves a Christian should be stoned. But, morality aside, which is pretty much the way we're running the economy as a whole these days, this doesn't even make a lick of pragmatic sense. Keep people fed and you keep people employed. The money from the SNAP program doesn't go into a vault in the Caymans; practically all of it goes right back into the economy, where it helps keep people employed in grocery stores and sundry shops. (There is a similar argument to be made about how counterproductive it is to be slashing unemployment benefits, and state payrolls, in a recession, as though the money from a government salary doesn't count somehow.) And it's not just America that seems enthralled, and then crippled, by this nonsense.
As I said, the blog is not an economist, but it will hazard a guess that this notion that you can run an economy without demand took hold when we handed the entire financial world over to people who don't actually sell anything except debt, and risk, and other people's money, and their own arrogant genius, and a lot of other intangible things like that. I hear an awful lot from The Business Community about how politicians don't understand or appreciate their true unleavened genius. Is there any economist propounding this balderdash who's ever actually had a job selling anything more substantial than his own bullshit? You can't run a business if nobody can afford to be your customers.
Few people could say it better.
Indeed, SNAP does keep people fed, but it's also an economic stimulus program in disguise that puts money directly into the economy. According to the Congressional Budget Office and Moody's Analytics, food stamps contributes $1.72 to the economy for every $1 dollar spent by the government.
Economists consider SNAP one of the most effective forms of economic stimulus. Moody’s Analytics estimates that in a weak economy, every dollar increase in SNAP benefits generates $1.72 in economic activity. Similarly, CBO rated an increase in SNAP benefits as one of the two most cost-effective of all spending and tax options it examined for boosting growth and jobs in a weak economy.
According to the National Academy of Science poverty measures, which count SNAP as income, SNAP kept about 4 million people out of poverty in 2010 and lessened the severity of poverty for millions of others.
The evidence is overwhelming, but after hitting "the pause button," the House GOP decided it would be best to have another go at hostage taking and economic sabotage rather than cooperate on something that benefits their own constituents just as much as anyone else.