Late last week, House Republicans voted to slash public investment in food aid to the poor, cutting $39 billion over the next decade, resulting in lost benefits for about 3.8 million people. The political fallout hasn’t faded just yet.
One House Republican justified his cruelty by citing a Biblical passage he took out of context. BuzzFeed, meanwhile, ran an item on GOP lawmakers who voted to cut food stamps despite personally having benefited from the farm bill’s subsidies.
But it was this item out of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) office that stood out for me.
In this case, Cooper, Cantor’s communications director, was outraged the White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the Republican cuts will deprive food to hungry Americans. Cooper believes this is “blatantly false.”
He’s blatantly wrong. GOP officials continue to insist they’re just “reforming” the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), closing loopholes and adding new requirements, but take a look at the policy analysis published by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The facts are straightforward: “Those who would be thrown off the program include some of the nation’s most destitute adults, as well as many low-income children, seniors, and families that work for low wages.”
But while Americans come to terms with this, let’s also note why Republicans would deny what they’ve done – as opposed to, say, take credit for sticking it to the poor on purpose.
In the case of the farm bill, House GOP lawmakers effectively became caricatures of themselves. While the legislation has traditionally helped low-income families put food on the table, while also providing subsidies to the agricultural industry, Republicans this year split the bill into two. GOP officials wanted to ensure agribusinesses weren’t affected, while at the same time, they also wanted to impose the sharpest cuts to food stamps since the program was created.
If that sounds like something out of a Dickens novel, welcome to Republican politics circa 2013.
But GOP leaders don’t want to be seen this way, primarily because the number of poor Americans struggling to eat easily outnumber the number of Mansanto lobbyists who have Boehner’s cell number on speed dial. And so we get the obvious pushback – Republicans pushing back with incredulity, asking, “Who, us? Cut food stamps? Nah.”
But reality is proving to be quite stubborn. Republicans targeted vulnerable Americans with no real political capital – almost certainly because they’re vulnerable Americans with no real political capital – with cruel cuts to food aid. They did so despite the fact that this assistance is so critically important to millions of struggling people, and despite the fact that food stamps are one of the very best stimulative investments the government can make.
Paul Krugman summarized this morning:
SNAP, in short, is public policy at its best. It not only helps those in need; it helps them help themselves. And it has done yeoman work in the economic crisis, mitigating suffering and protecting jobs at a time when all too many policy makers seem determined to do the opposite. So it tells you something that conservatives have singled out this of all programs for special ire.
Even some conservative pundits worry that the war on food stamps, especially combined with the vote to increase farm subsidies, is bad for the G.O.P., because it makes Republicans look like meanspirited class warriors. Indeed it does. And that’s because they are.