The farm bill passed by the House yesterday is but the latest symbol of the political polarization in Congress right now. GOP leaders successfully separated SNAP "food stamp" funding from the bill for the first time in decades against Democrats' loudest protests and tears. The bill includes $195 billion in subsidies exclusively for farmers over the next 10 years. Not a single Dem voted for the bill, which passed 216-208. A month ago, the House attempted to pass a farm bill that included SNAP subsidies, but cut it by $20 billion, from $763 billion to $743 billion. During debate for that bill Louisiana Sen. David Vitter infamously attempted a permanent ban for anyone ever convicted of a violent crime from accepting SNAP benefits -- a deal Democrats at the time accepted. That bill did not pass.
The decision to strip away SNAP benefits -- which will be considered in their own separate bill, according to Republican majority leaders -- was urged by the conservative Club for Growth, whose founder Stephen Moore is a scholar at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and Heritage Action, the lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation. The SNAP subtraction reportedy moved Rep. Corrine Brown, an African-American Congresswoman from Florida, to tears. Meanwhile, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer said he had no confidence that Republicans will pass a SNAP bill later.
The bill is now supposed to go to conference to negotiate with Senate leaders over the bill it passed last month, which includes $760.5 billion for food stamps and nutrition. But some are doubtul that any agreement can be made between the chambers without the SNAP assistance in the House bill -- nor would a SNAP-less bill likely have the votes to override a veto from President Obama if it did.
The current SNAP program ends September 30, so either way new legislation would need to happen before then. Last year close to 47 million people received food assistance, a consequence of the recession, a 13 percent increase on average since 2008. Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said that if House Republicans decide to take up a separate SNAP bill later, it is "very likely" that they would pass one with more "severe" cuts.
"Splitting the farm bill and paving the way for the House to pass a more draconian SNAP-only bill in coming weeks would be the latest demonstration of how dysfunctional the House is becoming," said Greenstein in his blog yesterday.