The “cuts” in the new-and-improved farm bill… aren’t, really.
posted at 7:21 pm on January 27, 2014 by Erika Johnsen
The House GOP was originally looking for around a 5 percent cut to the almost $80 billion/year federal food-stamp program in the latest iteration of the long-overdue farm bill. The Senate Democrats were appalled by such — uhm — “excess,” preferring an obviously much more responsible cut of half of one percent. This, evidently, is what compromise looks like:
A House plan to make major cuts to food stamps would be scaled back under a bipartisan agreement on a massive farm bill, a near end to a more than two-year fight that has threatened to hurt rural lawmakers in an election year.
The measure announced Monday by the House and Senate Agriculture committees preserves food stamp benefits for most Americans who receive them and continues generous subsidies for farmers. The House could vote on the bill as soon as Wednesday.
The compromise was expected to cut food stamps by about $800 million a year, or around 1 percent. …
The final bill released Monday would cost almost $100 billion a year over five years, with a cut of around $2.3 billion a year from current spending.
A $2 billion cut in spending (whoop-de-doo) from our absolutely current spending levels, perhaps, but it wasn’t so very long ago that we were spending drastically less than that on the omnibus whopper that is the farm bill’s marriage of political convenience between food stamps and agriculture subsides. 2008, in fact. Chris Edwards at Cato explains:
It looks like the final farm bill will be expected to cost about $950 billion over 10 years. CRS has details on bill versions from the Fall, but I adjusted those numbers based on the reported GOP cave-in on food stamps.
If the final number is $950 billion, the 2014 farm bill will cost 48 percent more than the $640 billion farm bill passed in 2008. Farm bill supporters claim that the new bill includes “savings” and “cuts,” but that is a myth created by the rising CBO baseline. The reality is that Congress is set to impose a huge, damaging, and unaffordable burden on taxpayers and the economy.
Even though the Congressional conferees are finally inking their “compromise,” however, the rest of the week will likely determine whether or not it finally makes a peaceful and uncontested journey through both chambers of Congress, or if Democrats and/or Republicans decide to raise another legislative ruckus (just look at Politico‘s report on the afternoon’s development for an idea of the absurdly complex degree to which various agriculture lobbies are frantically tightening their cronyish, rent-seeking grips on maintaining even the marginal cuts to their precious subsidies that the conferees’ version managed to make). If any Republicans do make some noise over the (pitifully small) cuts to the ever-burgeoning food-stamp program, you can count on Democrats to fully exploit it as another opportunity to tout their favored populist messaging, but I would riddle the Democrats this: In what world is this a sign of an economic “recovery”?
In a first, working-age people now make up the majority in U.S. households that rely on food stamps — a switch from a few years ago, when children and the elderly were the main recipients.
Some of the change is due to demographics, such as the trend toward having fewer children. But a slow economic recovery with high unemployment, stagnant wages and an increasing gulf between low-wage and high-skill jobs also plays a big role. It suggests that government spending on the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program — twice what it cost five years ago — may not subside significantly anytime soon.
Food stamp participation since 1980 has grown the fastest among workers with some college training, a sign that the safety net has stretched further to cover America’s former middle class, according to an analysis of government data for The Associated Press by economists at the University of Kentucky. Formally called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, or SNAP, the program now covers 1 in 7 Americans.
Answer: It isn’t, and Democrats’ big-spending, big-government policies are not succeeding in helping provide Americans with the opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty, nor in generating the real level of economic growth necessary for them to do so.