SIGNS OF INTELLIGENCE AFTER ALL: House Drops Food Stamps From Farm Bill

Finally, a lightbulb goes on in the House of Representatives…

Bruised from the defeat of a massive farm bill last month, Republicans are giving the legislation another chance by bringing a pared-down version to the House floor.

GOP leaders were still counting how many votes they could muster for the new measure, which drops the politically sensitive food stamp portion of the bill, when they released the legislation late Wednesday. The White House swiftly issued a veto threat, and House Democrats reacted angrily to the last-minute move. A vote is expected Thursday.

The dropped section would have made a 3 percent cut to the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program. Many Republicans say that isn’t enough since the program’s cost has doubled in the last five years. Democrats have opposed any cuts.

Some 80 percent of that the U.S. Department of Agriculture spends is on food stamps; the other $20 billion in the farm bill has to do with farming.

Tying food stamps in with agriculture is a highly disingenuous thing to do, as it puts the agribusiness sector in the same boat as the poor who depend on food stamps. The incentives are horribly perverted when that’s done, as you might imagine – you end up with agribusiness lobbying for more and more food stamp dollars in an effort to increase their market and pump prices up. It’s corporate welfare alongside individual welfare, and during the Obama administration it’s doubled in five years.

Having a separate food stamp bill from the farm bill makes for a much more honest debate. How much should we spend on helping the poor buy food, and how much should we spend on the U.S. Department of Agriculture? Those are two separate questions.

And for practical purposes, splitting the bill would make it easier to cut both farm subsidies AND the food stamp program.

Except that Dan Horowitz at RedState says this is a ruse

Well, once they are finished with the head fake and pass an agriculture-only bill, they plan to go to conference with the Senate and re-sow the food stamp portion back into the bill.  Moreover, even if they sever the two portions of the bill, they should not bring them to the floor without major reforms.  The point of separating them out, as conservatives have noted all along, is so we can actually reform them individually without the robust alliance they enjoy when bundled together.  What is the point of separating them without reforms?  We will just get two separate welfare bills – one individual and one corporate – instead of a combo bill.  And ultimately, we will get the grand combo in conference.

It’s all about trust, and there is no trust with them.

While that’s true, conservatives can always beat the conference report. Splitting the bill is a good idea merely for structural reasons; comprehensive bills make for lazy and stupid lawmaking, bloated budgets and moronic policies nobody would support if they were debated in the light of day.

And if the House leadership were to agree to put food stamps back into the farm bill in conference, well – there will be consequences to that. That mere possibility shouldn’t invalidate the good idea to split the bill and make for more scrutiny of the policies wrapped up in it.

Besides, the GOP needs this fight. It’s a disgrace to have 50 million Americans on food stamps, and Democrats who have blown that program sky-high over the last four years need to be held to account on that specific basis, without having agribusiness as cover.

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