The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Republican farm bill – including new work requirements for food stamp recipients – 213-211 Thursday, June 21. The measure just barely crossed the finish line without a single Democrat vote in its favor after having failed back in May.
The farm bill provides the legislation behind just about every farm and nutritional program subsidized by the federal government – including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps. It’s reauthorized every five years, more or less. The last one was two years behind schedule. As usual, the House and the Senate have each worked on their versions of the bill, which they will attempt to reconcile in conference.
There were some significant departures from the norm in the House version, however. While nutrition programs, like SNAP, generally account for about 80% of the funds sequestered by the farm bill, that’s usually the trade-off rural state politicians offer to get their urbanite colleagues to vote in favor of farm subsidies.
That changed this year. The $867 billion legislation failed once in the House in May – and very nearly didn’t make it through this time – because of the addition of stricter work requirements for SNAP and what should have been an unrelated falling out over immigration reform.
The idea behind the food stamp change is simple: If you can work, you must work – or volunteer or participate in some form of educational program. Republicans support the tightening of work requirements because they see it as a way to reverse the demotivational nature of the program. While a great many recipients do work, many others don’t feel any need to find a job because the government will give them money anyway. Ideally, this will push those people off their lazy rear ends and into the workforce. The GOP hypothesis, one might say, is that hunger is a great motivator.
Of course, the Democratic Party relies very heavily on welfare programs to maintain their plantation of captive voters. When the bill came up in May, it failed, 198-213. Every Democrat voted against it, as did 30 Republicans, most of whom were in the House Freedom Caucus who wanted a vote on immigration and didn’t get it, so they killed the bill.
The June 21 vote was for the same version, and once again, every Democrat in the House voted against it. However, this time the Freedom Caucus got their vote on Bob Goodlatte’s immigration bill, which would have tightened border security and provided funding for the wall.
Despite Goodlatte’s effort being shot down by every Democrat and even more Republicans than the farm bill in May, that the vote occurred was enough for the Freedom Caucus, and the farm bill managed to squeak by with an amazing two-vote majority. And so, the usually bipartisan farm bill passed the House for the first time with only Republican support.
A Tough Road Ahead
The old fat lady has yet to sing the closing number in this play, however, as the House and Senate must still meet in conference to hash out their differences. The Senate version, which will likely be voted upon and passed in the next week or so, does not include the stricter SNAP work requirements. With the resistance the House version encountered, it’s unlikely that the tightening of the welfare reigns will break on through to the other side. But then, the farm bill is a massive tome dedicated to welfare programs – both personal and corporate. It’s designed to redistribute billions of dollars out of each of our personal incomes and into the hands of those the government deems needier – or perhaps worthier. If the work requirements make it through the final process and to Trump’s desk for signing, it might just be a miracle.