The Food-Stamp Farce
Democrats' handwringing should not be taken seriously.


Stephen Spruiell

Democrats are facing some blowback for cutting food stamps to pay for two recent spending bills, one a child-nutrition measure and the other a bailout for cash-strapped state governments. Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s (D., Conn.) response was typical: “I fought very hard for the food-assistance money in the Recovery Act,” she said, “but I know that states across the nation and my own state of Connecticut also desperately need these resources to save jobs and avoid Draconian cuts to essential services for low-income families.” Most Democrats also blamed Republicans for forcing them to offset the spending in the first place, instead of letting them add it to this year’s $1.3 trillion deficit.

This reasoning is warped on at least three levels. First, Republicans are not the only ones in Congress concerned about unpaid-for spending. Second, the idea that Congress can’t or won’t simply restore the food-stamp cuts at some point in the future seems ridiculous to anyone who has watched it continuously reauthorize expiring stimulus provisions over the past year. Finally, the federal budget hardly lacks for other offsets. Republicans at the committee level suggested offsetting the new spending by cutting wasteful farm subsidies. Democrats decided to cut food stamps instead.

In Congress, deficit-weariness is now a bipartisan phenomenon. An unfunded extension of unemployment benefits almost failed to pass the Senate last month over the concerns of Democrats such as Ben Nelson (Neb.), and it was clear to Democratic leaders in Congress that they didn’t have the votes for any bill, particularly one as contentious as the state-bailout bill, that relied on even more borrowing.

One reason for the deficit-weariness is the Democrats’ refusal to let “temporary” stimulus programs expire. Passage of the state-bailout bill marked the fourth time Congress has extended provisions of the $862 billion stimulus bill that passed in 2009. (For those keeping score at home, it was the sixth round of fiscal stimulus Congress has passed since early 2008, when the Bush administration got us started down this road.) Each time these provisions are about to expire, Democrats cry to the heavens that letting them do so will immediately put hardworking Americans in breadlines and leave children sleeping on grates.

This is important to keep in mind, because the Democrats did not actually “cut” food-stamp benefits effective immediately. Rather, they moved up the expiration date of an expansion of food-stamp benefits that they created as part of the 2009 stimulus bill. (Actually, they moved up the expiration date twice: from 2015 to 2014 to fund the child-nutrition measure, then from 2014 to 2013 to fund the state-bailout bill.)