Last week, we saw the full measure of Republican cruelty. Discarding decades of precedent, the House GOP stripped the nation’s food stamp program from the farm bill, with the unambiguous intent of depriving poor Americans of basic sustenance.
The food stamp program provides 47.8 million Americans — one in every seven — an average of about $133 per month to help buy groceries. That’s $4.43 per day — a pittance. The total cost of the program is a modest $80 billion per year, out of a total federal budget of $3.8 trillion. Enrollment has increased 70 percent between 2006 and 2011, during which time the unemployment rate increased 97 percent. Cause and effect is pretty clear.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, cuts to the deficit in the House bill are smaller than those in the Senate bill — which preserved food assistance for the poor — and far smaller than the $37.8 billion cut in President Obama’s budget. In addition, the bill removes the typical five-year expiration for subsidies, making them permanent. “It is a staggering bait-and-switch that will bury taxpayers under billions of subsidies in perpetuity,” said Steve Ellis of the conservative Taxpayers for Common Sense.
And this isn’t money spent on needy farmers. A quarter of federal subsidies go to just 4 percent of agribusinesses, as the family farm continues to become a relic of the past. While Republicans demand means testing for social net programs, the wealthiest agricultural businesses are plied with free money, regardless of need. The bulk of subsidies are spent on grains, oilseeds and cotton, not healthy fruits and vegetables. A new Price Loss Coverage program guarantees agribusinesses 85 percent of the revenue they received the prior year — that means if food prices fall over the next decade, the federal government will be on the hook for billions more in direct payouts. And taxpayers subsidize 15 private insurers to the tune of $1.3 billion to run the program. Republicans sure do have an odd definition of “free market.”
Moreover, the farm bill continues to subsidize the marketing budgets of these agricultural interests. There’s $200 million allocated to help impoverished corporations like McDonald’s, Nabisco, Fruit of the Loom and Mars market their wares. And then there’s the price supports.
For example, Americans pay twice as much for sugar than consumers in other countries due to outdated trade restrictions, pricing targets and quotas intended to prop up the domestic sugar industry. Current law doesn’t just cost jobs in the confectionary industry; it also costs Americans another $3.5 billion per year at the checkout counter, according to an Iowa State University study.
And while many Republicans voted against the original failed House farm bill, trumpeting fiscal responsibility, all but 12 ended up voting for the second version. The only difference? The omission of the food stamp program.
Republicans are apparently fine with federal policy that grows the size of government, distorts the free market and costs Americans billions both in their taxes and at the store. But $4 per day to feed hungry children? That’s out of bounds! And that’s par for the course for the modern, mean-spirited Republican Party.
Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com).