Stench of hypocrisy permeated the halls of Congress during farm bill debate

I remember the Senate field hearings in 1967 where our elected leaders highlighted the need for government to protect our most vulnerable. There were those in Congress then who would have had us believe there was nothing we could do. But fortunately Robert Kennedy’s trip to the Mississippi Delta changed America forever.

As a country, RFK helped us to see poverty firsthand: the distended stomachs of innocent children who hadn’t eaten in days, their mothers unsure where their next meal would come from.  It raised our awareness of and concern for our fellow citizens.

Yet here we are, more than 40 years later, and once again we are being presented with those same false choices.

The House majority would have you believe we had no choice but to make draconian cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a program that we know has worked in reducing significantly malnutrition in America, particularly among the most vulnerable mothers and children.

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SNAP has been a critical safety net for millions of families who need help putting food on the table. Nearly half of the 46 million low-income participants are children, and a significant portion of adult participants are employed but simply do not earn enough to support their family.

SNAP provides more than $1.2 billion in benefits a month to more than 786,000 Virginians. In my district, more than 6,000 households receive SNAP benefits. Sixty percent of those families have children under the age of 18. One-third of these families live below the poverty line despite the fact that 45 percent have one family member working and 42 percent have at least two family members working.

Simply put, SNAP prevents hunger in the wealthiest nation on earth. Sadly, the House majority’s bill would have cut SNAP by $21 billion, forcing more than 2 million people off this program and causing more than 210,000 children to lose eligibility for free or reduced school meals.

Beyond the human face of hunger, a tragic irony is lost within this policy debate. The very people who routinely call on this body to limit government and rein in spending are today asking for government handouts in the form of crop subsidies and insurance payments.

They want the American taxpayer to cover their risks while telling those at risk of hunger that they are on their own.  It is a bold-faced Darwinian philosophy except, of course, when it involves them.

To allay this apparent conflict of ideology, if not seemingly obvious conflict of interest, I had a simple amendment that would have prohibited Members of Congress or their spouses from benefiting from the provisions of this bill. As if only to confirm my already strong reservations with this legislation, House Republicans wouldn’t even allow for debate of this common-sense proposal to restore program integrity and public confidence.

The American people should be forgiven for smelling the stench of hypocrisy in the halls of Congress.

So I now ask, who are the takers who benefit from the farm bill: Poor babies and their mothers trying to put food on the table; or those who pocket tens of thousands of dollars in crop subsidies and insurance payments and tax credits and accelerated equipment depreciation and federally funded soil and crop R and D then have the gall to vote with a straight face to cut nutrition benefits?

For all these reasons, I could not support this reckless philosophy of legislating that endangers the very people we should be looking after.  And in the end, 62 Republicans joined the vast majority of House Democrats in defeating the House farm bill.  For the time being, at least, we will not be taking food from the mouths of mothers in need and their children.

Connolly represents Virginia's 11th congressional district in the House of representatives since 2009. He serves on the Foireign Affairs and the Oversight and Government Reform committees.