Somewhere in the US Capitol, a small group of legislators are hashing out a final five-year farm bill. Among many sizeable tasks, the conference committee must reconcile $40 billion in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cuts from the House version with $4 billion in cuts from the Senate version.
Early reports indicate they may have settled on $9 billion in cuts, which presents Democrats with a real conundrum—amidst relentless messaging about a return to the War on Poverty, and heading into an election year where the party plans to make a populist economic pitch to voters, can Democrats in Congress really vote for a bill that cuts $9 billion from food stamps amidst a bad economy?
For some House Democrats, the answer is easy. “I am not going to support a farm bill that increases hunger, period,” Representative Jim McGovern told MSNBC last week. McGovern and some of his colleagues have been blasting food stamp cuts from the outset, and if enough conservative legislators flee the farm bill because the cuts aren’t deep enough, McGovern and his band might be able to derail the farm bill entirely by also withholding support. The SNAP program doesn’t need the farm bill to continue operating; benefits would just continue on autopilot at current levels.
It’s particularly easy for legislators in urban areas to take this approach. “There’s no reason for me to vote for the farm bill. I don’t have an (agricultural) district,” Representative Gene Green told The Nation. He represents Texas’ 29th District, which includes eastern Houston and some first-ring suburbs. Green didn’t vote for the last version of the farm bill because of the SNAP cuts. “I don’t have farmers who need the subsidies,” he said.
But most likely, McGovern and his like-minded colleagues aren’t a big enough group to stop the farm bill and its $9 billion in food stamp cuts. That would take a much larger group of Democrats, like when 172 Democrats opposed June’s version of the farm bill because it cut $20 billion from SNAP. Combined with sixty ultraconservative Republicans who voted no, it was enough to kill the bill by a wide margin.