08/05/2013 04:18 pm ET Updated Oct 05, 2013

The Cut-at-all-Costs Congress Needs a Dose of Reality


The war on the poor is real in the 113th Congress.

Last month, the House of Representatives reauthorized half of the historically popular and bipartisan farm bill. Following an embarrassingly thin defeat of the full farm bill, House Republican leaders stripped the bill of its food stamp provisions, leaving only agricultural subsidies in the final bill that received passage. It was a bold, backroom deal that silenced opposition from the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), from progressives, and from a few Republicans and moderates. Moreover, the move also effectively gutted the traditionally popular food stamp program.

So while the House Republicans rallied behind uncompetitive subsidies to the country's agricultural sector, it refused to fund a program that helps keep the poor fed. For the 113th Congress, it was yet another knock on the working poor during ongoing economic struggle. And yet again, shortly before the six-week recess by Congressional members Republicans took another smack at the poor by planning to cut nutrition assistance to the most vulnerable in our community by $40 billion.

Breaking up the farm bill earlier in the summer was a masterful maneuver by the House GOP to derail the ability for urban and rural communities to come together to ensure a bipartisan agreement to move the farm bill forward, but ultimately the move hurts the poor. Republicans actions would have you believe that poor Americans simply do not live in their districts. But with a quick look at the data you'll find as The Atlantic did that one in ten Republican constituents rely on nutrition assistance. For communities across the country where Republican lawmakers continue to wage war on the poor by cutting their lifeline of nutrition assistance, the question remains: whose side are you on?

In each of these instances, Republicans have sought legislation without approval of the authorizing Agriculture Committee, without debate or a hearing, and have effectively ignored decades of meaningful relationships between urban and rural representatives. What has been cut are the school meals and summer food service programs and other necessary programs which make a huge difference to more than 40 million Americans. They are what the House GOP plans to eliminate all in the name of fiscal responsibility. For House Republicans bipartisanship clearly was not the goal for pushing through a farm bill that essentially harms the most vulnerable Americans.

Just a decade ago, the Farm bill was an avatar of bipartisan support. Having served on the Agriculture Committee during my tenure in U.S. Congress as the Ranking Member of the House Nutrition and Operation Committee, and as a conferee to the 2002 Farm Bill, I appreciated both the programmatic and political relationships of having nutrition/food stamps and farm assistance together. Bridging a geographical divide has been a critical component of being able to pass a substantive Farm Bill with bipartisan support.

To separate agricultural aid and food assistance programs, as the House Republicans did, makes little policy sense. After all, the food received through the food assistance programs are consumed by the most vulnerable including seniors, mothers and children, schools, hospitals, and homes. Members of the Agriculture Committee are known to work in a bipartisan manner and having the nutritional title helped both urban and rural communities enhance this cooperation. The Farm Bill has traditionally had many constituents including consumers, conservationists, foresters, rural communities, businesses, farmers, alternative energy industry/supporters, and the poor. Now, that wide support remains threatened by the crass political move to split the Farm bill in two.

It is extremely disappointing that the House leadership would find it necessary to remove nutrition programs for the working poor, children and seniors. Already reeling from the tepid, ongoing economic recovery, slashing nutrition assistance further leaves those groups on the margins of our society.

Sadly, House Republican leaders continue to wage a war against the poor. We need to hold them accountable and stand up for the millions of children, mothers, and seniors that need a hand up not to be pushed down.

My hope now rests with the American people to push back during August recess and force members to go back to Washington and rectify this dangerous precedent and give hope to the hopeless by making the most vulnerable whole. Sensible agricultural policy is deserving of real leadership from Congress - the American people deserve better.