It’s an old story by now. The GOP-controlled House takes what used to be a bipartisan, consensus legislative goal — the Farm Bill typically passed every five years — and gives it a savage ideological twist. In this instance it’s tightening eligibility for SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a.k.a. food stamps) and adding more stringent work requirements for those that do qualify. The House passed its bill on June 21 by a two-vote margin, with nary a Democratic vote, which didn’t bother House Republicans one bit.
Today the Senate, which has to operate on the basis of bipartisanship because Democrats can filibuster legislation that doesn’t operate under some sort of special rules, passed its own version of the Farm bill by a much broader 86-11 margin. All Democrats and a clear majority of Republicans voted for it because it didn’t include the nasty SNAP provisions.
The 11 GOP senators voting “no” are expressing solidarity with their House counterparts. At this point the key variable could be the ever-unpredictable president of the United States, who had earlier been signaling strong support for the SNAP reforms. The latest word from the administration earlier this week wasn’t so clear:
The [White House] statement also said the Senate bill “misses key opportunities to reform the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Most notably, the bill does not strengthen work requirements for able-bodied working age adults….”
But the statement avoids any threat of a veto, saying instead, “The Administration looks forward to working with the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee to address these and other issues with the farm bill as the process moves forward.”
Authorization for most major agricultural programs runs out on September 30. Farm Belt Republicans would sure hate to see any of them lapse right before a midterm election. Sure, Congress could work out a temporary extension while public and private wrangling over SNAP continues, with conservatives delighting in the opportunity to play the old “welfare” politics game that “the base” enjoys so thoroughly. Or maybe the ancient tradition of farm bills linking the arms of rural agricultural interests and urban retailers and food-stamp beneficiaries will prevail one more time, and this farm bill will creep across the finish line.