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June 22, 2013 11:01 AM An Invitation To Cruelty

By Ed Kilgore

Underneath the news today is a simmering, classic-DC Blame Game being held over the smoking ruins of the House Farm Bill. House Republicans, particularly those in leadership, really need to pin this one on perfidious Democrats, because otherwise it looks like John Boehner has completely lost control of his Conference (of whom 62 voted against the bill).

But even if you accept that the last-minute defection of a relative handful of Democrats helped create the shocking defeat, it’s clear Republicans made their own last-minute decision making Democratic defections inevitable, as House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer publicly charged (via Peter Kasperowicz’s report in The Hill) in an exchange with Eric Cantor:

“So I tell you with all due respect Mr. Majority Leader … I wasn’t going to bring up what happened today,” Hoyer said. “But what happened today is you turned a bipartisan bill, necessary for our farmers, necessary for our consumers, necessary for the people of America, that many of us would have supported, and you turned it into a partisan bill.”
The language Hoyer referred to was an amendment from Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) that would have let states require food stamp recipients to work or look for work. Cantor responded to Hoyer by saying the amendment would have set up a pilot project that might have been used to help reform the food stamp program.

Well, it was a “pilot project,” all right, but one that “experimented” as to whether offering states a direct and very large subsidy to dump the unemployed from SNAP eligibility might encourage them to do exactly that. Here’s Robert Greenstein from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on the Southerland Amendment:

The House today approved a stunning, extreme amendment to the farm bill from Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) that would allow states to require most adults who receive or apply for SNAP — including parents with children as young as 1 year old and many people with disabilities — to work or participate in a work or training program for at least 20 hours a week or else have their entire family’s SNAP benefits cut off.
The amendment provides no jobs and no funds for work or training programs, and it does not require states to make any work opportunities available. People who want to work and are looking for a job but haven’t found one could be cut off.
And the amendment gives states a powerful financial incentive to do this. It allows them to keep half of the savings from cutting these people off and to use the money for whatever they want — tax cuts, special-interest subsidies, or anything else.….
The bottom line? Under the Southerland amendment, large numbers of poor jobless families would likely lose food assistance (or be denied it in the first place) and experience hardship and destitution, while state political leaders would receive windfalls to use as they wish.

Now clearly the House GOP leadership allowed a vote to incorporate this invitation to cruelty into the Farm Bill to satisfy conservatives unsatisfied with the large SNAP cuts in the underlying bill. This reflects the broader reality that SNAP has become the poster child for the contemporary conservative claim that the Great Society programs have all but destroyed the moral fiber of the poor and should be junked altogether as both wasteful and satanic.

So the Farm Bill has become a yet another vehicle for working out the Republican Party’s strategy and tactics for rolling back the major social legislation of the twentieth century. That’s their prerogative. But no one should be surprised when House Democrats refuse to cooperate.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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