An electronic benefit card for Georgia's food stamp program sits on the counter of Shinholster Grocery & Meat in Irwinton, Ga., Nov. 21, 2013.
Bryan Meltz/The New York Times/Redux

With tax cuts finished, House GOP takes aim at food stamps

Last month, House Republican leaders suffered an embarrassing setback, failing to pass their farm bill. As it turns out, the setback was temporary. The Washington Post reported yesterday:

A deeply polarizing farm bill narrowly passed the House on Thursday, a month after the legislation went down to stunning defeat after getting ensnared in the toxic politics of immigration.

The legislation, which passed 213 to 211 with 20 Republicans joining Democrats in their unanimous opposition, includes new work rules for most adult food-stamp recipients – provisions that are dead on arrival in the Senate.

The legislative prospects matter, of course. As the House GOP knows, the farm bill will need 60 votes in the upper chamber, and there’s obviously no way Senate Democrats are going to go along with a regressive bill like this one.

Why would they? As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Robert Greenstein explained yesterday, the House bill “includes cuts and changes to SNAP (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) that would eliminate or reduce food assistance for more than 1 million low-income households with more than 2 million people.”

Making matters slightly worse, as Catherine Rampell explained, the GOP bill would also create a new layer of government bureaucracy, which “eats up nearly all the ‘savings’ from kicking people off food stamps,” intended to make it more difficult for qualifying Americans to receive benefits..

The fact that all of this comes six months after Republicans approved massive tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and big corporations only adds insult to injury for many of those who’d be affected by the House proposal.

Indeed, the House’s farm bill is almost impressive in being misguided in so many ways at once. The New Republic’s Alex Shephard recently described this farm bill as capturing of “everything that’s wrong with Congress” in one piece of legislation, which was shaped by dysfunction, cynicism, and “bad policies that will make Americans less healthy and safe.”

To the extent that this still matters, this year’s farm bill was also deeply partisan – which won’t surprise anyone, but which isn’t at all normal. Traditionally, the farm bill has been one of Congress’ easier lifts, largely because it’s nearly always been done in a bipartisan way since its initial iteration in the early 1930s.

Lawmakers have been able to avoid tumult because the farm bill has included food assistance to struggling households, which addressed the concerns of members representing urban areas, and agricultural assistance to farmers, which addressed the concerns of members representing rural areas.

This year, however, House Republicans decided the farm bill would be a vehicle for a conservative ideological mission. The result is a bill that faced bipartisan opposition, which will be largely ignored in the Senate, but which passed anyway.