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Feeding the base, starving the poor

It wasn't too long ago that the farm bill was one of those rare pieces of major legislation that Congress passed with relative ease. The left liked the

It wasn't too long ago that the farm bill was one of those rare pieces of major legislation that Congress passed with relative ease. The left liked the provisions that helped low-income families put food on the table, the right liked the subsidies to the agricultural industry, and the bill usually sailed through both chambers with bipartisan support.

Then the radicalization of congressional Republicans set in, and what used to be easy became incredibly difficult.

To briefly recap, in July, after the Senate approved a bipartisan version, the House pushed its own right-wing alternative, which was almost laughably extreme. House Republicans pushed for $20 billion in food-stamp cuts, along with drug tests for recipients -- because if you're struggling to buy groceries in the wake of an economic crisis, conservative lawmakers believe you deserve to be treated as a suspected drug addict.

Much to the surprise of the GOP's own leadership, that bill failed, not because it was too ridiculous, but because House Republicans concluded it just wasn't punitive enough.

So, two months after passing a bill to help agribusinesses exclusively, the House GOP found time yesterday to pass an even more radical farm bill.

With only Republicans voting in support, the GOP-led House passed a bill Thursday to reduce spending for food stamps by $39 billion over 10 years.The vote was 217-210. No Democrats voted for the measure.Fifteen Republicans voted against the bill, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will result in the loss of benefits for an estimated 3.8 million people in 2014.

Morgan Whitaker explained that this House bill "creates new provisions that nearly double cuts, primarily by imposing new work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents between the age of 18 and 50, limiting them to three months of benefits in a three-year period unless they work part-time, or are in a job-training program. Currently, those recipients can obtain waivers during times of high unemployment."

So, what happens now?

Because the Senate passed a more mainstream farm bill, the competing versions will now head to a conference committee where the bipartisan, bicameral negotiations can begin. Is there any chance in the world Senate Democrats will go along with the right-wing version the House approved yesterday? Of course not.

In fact, that's partly why the House GOP's farm bill was as extreme as it was: Republicans are trying to set the parameters of the debate. If the Senate version cuts food stamps by $4 billion and the House version cuts food stamps by $20 billion, the middle ground may end up somewhere in between. It's partly why Republicans in the lower chamber doubled their proposed cuts -- they hope the compromise position will end up excluding more struggling families.

The GOP's far-right base will no doubt be impressed. Everyone else should be outraged.

For more background on the severity of the House bill, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has been doing some great analysis on the legislation for a long while, and CBPP President Robert Greenstein released a statement last night that's worth your time.

The House's passage today of the Republican leadership's bill to cut SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) by almost $40 billion over the next decade marks a new low for an already dysfunctional Congress. It would increase hunger and hardship all across our country.By cutting food assistance for at least 3.8 million low-income people in the coming year -- including some of the very poorest Americans, many children and senior citizens, and even veterans -- this cruel, if not heartless, legislation could jeopardize a vital stepping stone to many families who are still struggling to find work or who depend on low-wage jobs. As the nation slowly climbs out of the deepest recession in decades -- with 22 million people still unemployed or underemployed -- millions of families rely on SNAP to help feed their children.SNAP recipients already are preparing for an across-the-board cut in their SNAP benefits beginning in November that will reduce their modest benefits to less than $1.40 per person per meal.For decades, policymakers have shared a bipartisan commitment to reducing hunger and hardship. This legislation turns its back on that commitment.