June 25, 2013

House Lawmakers Challenge Welfare Alliance

By: Luke Kenworthy

Farmers want one thing when it comes to the farm bill, extending it. And despite all of the egregious subsidies and carve-outs made for the agriculture market, the one thing that splits Republicans and Democrats is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.

That is probably because about 80 percent of the funding in the nearly $1 trillion farm bill is for SNAP. According to the Associated Press, the President has threatened to veto the bill because the House authorizes 3 percent less of SNAP funding than in the baseline. But we’re still looking at $740 billion for food stamps compared to $200 billion for farm subsidies over 3 years. To put this in perspective, that is about $100 billion more than the House authorizes in their 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Put that way, Republican leadership has a hard sell this year.

So why would the bill even be called the farm bill? Traditionally, it was the perfect combination to guarantee passing a farm bill. Democrats get to pass their urban welfare, and Republicans get to pass their rural welfare. But the rapidly increasing disparity between SNAP and farm candy makes it less attractive to Republicans, especially among the 112th and 113th class who were elected on fiscal responsibility.

Is it time, then, to separate the bill? One of the members from the 112th Congressional class thinks so. This week, Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., offered two amendments to completely separate SNAP form the farm bill. He said “it’s insulting” to describe the current legislation as a farm bill. Apparently, House Republican leadership didn’t care, because neither of the Stutzman’s amendments were given a vote on the floor.

This isn’t too shocking. Considering the President’s threat already looming and farmers’ nerves on edge, leadership was being prudent; or so they thought. After all the amendments that were filed in order received a vote, it was time to vote on the full farm bill. However, the majority support leadership thought they had backfired as 61 Republicans and 172 Democrats joined Stutzman in opposing the farm bill, failing with a vote of 195 – 234.

This outcome raises a few questions. Will lawmakers chart a new path for the farm bill and SNAP? Can either bill pass both chambers as stand-alone bills? If so, Congress could finally see an honest debate over the merits of taking an industry that has been coddled for 80 years and introducing it to the free-market. If so, Congress could finally see an honest debate over the merits of repealing a long abused and out of control food stamp program. It’s doubtful, but every story has a beginning.

In the end, farmers don’t care what it takes. They just want an extension. They want it passed. Historically, SNAP gets the job done. So right now, farmers are saying, ‘knock it off,’ and they can put a lot of pressure on lawmakers to maintain the status quo.

Luke Kenworthy is small-business owner from Indiana and a former aide to Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind.