07/11/2013 11:19 am ET Updated Sep 10, 2013

House Should Vote Down Stand-Alone Farm Bill

For several decades, legislation to reauthorize farm programs and SNAP (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) have moved together.  Now, the House Republican leadership is splitting the bills, moving a stand-alone farm bill today and planning to move a separate SNAP bill later.

The reason is clear.  Even though the farm bill the House defeated a few weeks ago contained more than $20 billion in SNAP cuts (nearly all of them in food assistance benefits) as well as an unprecedented measure allowing states to cut families off SNAP if a parent wants to work but can't find a job and letting state politicians take half of the resulting savings and use them for any purpose, that wasn't enough for many of the most conservative House Republicans.  So the House leadership has dropped the SNAP provisions and plans to come back later with a still harsher SNAP bill designed to pass solely with Republican votes.

This turn of events is deeply disturbing:
  • Until now, farm/SNAP legislation has been one of the few remaining areas of bipartisan legislative activity.  The House Republicans' scorched-earth policy with respect to SNAP is ending that, turning farm and SNAP legislation into a bitter partisan battleground on the House floor.
  • The likely result will be enactment of farm-only legislation, with SNAP being placed in a more tenuous position when its authorization expires on September 30.  (The House very likely will later pass a severe SNAP-only authorization bill to which the Senate likely will not respond.)  What happens then is unclear, with a decided risk of Republican threats and actions to short-change SNAP's appropriation on the grounds that the program hasn't been reauthorized.
  • Tens of millions of Americans (including many who work for low wages) live in poverty, struggle to make ends meet, and often suffer significant hardships, but they can at least get basic nutritional assistance through SNAP.  They ought not to be pawns in political maneuvers, and Congress should not jeopardize their chances of getting enough food to eat.
Splitting the farm bill and paving the way for the House to pass a more draconian SNAP-only bill in coming weeks would be the latest demonstration of how dysfunctional the House is becoming. The way to prevent this is clear.  House Members should reject the stand-alone farm bill coming to the House floor today and go back to producing legislation that not only covers agriculture and nutrition together, but also can pass the House because it is bipartisan and moderate (unlike the current bill and the one defeated a few weeks ago), not partisan and extreme.