To understand why grassroots dissatisfaction with the Republican establishment in Washington is so intense, look no further than the Agriculture Act of 2014 produced by a Senate-House conference committee. The measure will soon be on President Obama's desk, and he will sign it into law. The conventional wisdom inside the Beltway is that the farm bill shows it remains possible for the Democratic Senate and Republican House to put their profound differences aside and compromise in order to move important legislation. On closer inspection, however, it's business-as-usual in Washington, with Republican conference committee negotiators collapsing like an old sports stadium being dynamited by a demolition team.
A bit of recent history: When House Republicans approved the farm bill favored by most of the conservative and Tea Party members last year, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- aka food stamps -- was separated from appropriations for agriculture programs. Food stamp reforms that would have cut $40 billion over a decade were then approved. Predictably, Democrats and their allies in the liberal precincts of the mainstream media accused the Republicans of putting starving mothers and children on the street. The Democrat-led Senate insisted on an undivided farm bill with virtually no food stamp cuts.
|It's business-as-usual in Washington, with Republican conference committee negotiators caving like an old sports stadium as the demolition team's dynamite explodes.|
Then, as happens so often in the nation’s capital, Senate and House conferees went to work rewriting the legislation to satisfy K Street lobbyists, old guard Republicans like House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky and Democrats beholden to liberal political activists posing as champions of the poor. The food stamp and agriculture programs were reunited, and the resulting measure authorized nearly $1 trillion in spending over the next five years. The GOP conferees dropped the $40 billion worth of food stamp cuts passed in 2013 and accepted Senate Democrats' nominal reduction of $800 million over 10 years.
There are notable reforms in the bill, as claimed by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla. The New Deal-era direct payments to farmers for specific crops were eliminated, and the “heat and eat” loophole that automatically increased food stamp benefits for government heating assistance beneficiaries was closed. The measure also bans some forms of food stamp advertising and establishes a demonstration project allowing 10 states to experiment with stricter work requirements for food stamp recipients.
The business-as-usual nature of the bill that came out of the conference committee, however, begins with the way House Republicans caved on the most basic and important reform they adopted in 2013 — carving out food stamp spending from farm spending. Food stamp outlays have skyrocketed under Obama to $85 billion a year as the number of recipients has doubled. Lumping food stamps with the rest of the farm programs makes it tough to reform either, thanks to "you vote for mine and I'll vote for yours" log-rolling. Grassroots GOPers want to put an end to this sort of backscratching. They want leaders to show real backbone when bargaining with Democrats.