On Wednesday, the House gave final approval to the Farm Bill, clearing the way for Senate action and President Obama’s desk. The $1 trillion deal authorizes farm and food stamp programs for the next 5 years. For the past two years, farm and food stamp programs had been running on temporary extensions. Republicans had pushed for major reforms in the fast-growing food stamp program, but largely gave those up to reach a deal.
Although the legislation is called the Farm Bill, that is now a misnomer. More than 80% of the spending in the bill goes to the food stamp program. Food stamps are the fastest growing welfare program. More than 49 million Americans receive support from the program. This is a large reason spending on the program has more than doubled in the past 5 years.
The food stamp program currently costs just over $80 billion a year. Republicans had pushed to cut the program by $40 billion over ten years. That would represent a slim 5% cut in the program, spread over a decade. In the end, Republicans agreed to a trifling $8 billion cut. This will trim 1% from the program over ten years.
“Instead of status quo in this the fastest growing welfare program in the entire government,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp said in a statement, “we should have taken the opportunity to provide meaningful work reform requirements, especially for able bodied adults, as we passed in the U.S. House.”
The Republican retreat on food stamp reform fits a growing pattern. The GOP didn’t block a budget bill that increased spending. There are signals that they aren’t going to insist on spending cuts for an increase in the national debt. The party seems to be putting off any real debates until after the midterm elections in November.
On its face, it isn’t a bad strategy, since the party should have a stronger hand after the elections. Unfortunately, Republican leadership has a track record of promising a fight in the future, yet always declining the opportunity when it arises.
It begs the question as to whether the party really has a purpose or will simply be a slightly cheaper version of the Democrats.