Friday, May 31, 2013

Paul Krugman Lets Democrats Off Too Easily on Food Stamp Cuts

In his op-ed this morning in the Times, Paul Krugman condemned Congressional Republicans for cutting food stamps amidst a still depressed economy. He highlighted how the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has helped many families--and especially children--stay afloat during the recession.  Extolling their utility in hard times, he affirmed, "Food stamps have played an especially useful — indeed, almost heroic — role in recent years."

And food stamps don't just help struggling families: they also help the economy as a whole:
Indeed, estimates from the consulting firm Moody’s Analytics suggest that each dollar spent on food stamps in a depressed economy raises G.D.P. by about $1.70 — which means, by the way, that much of the money laid out to help families in need actually comes right back to the government in the form of higher revenue.
By alleviating the crisis of child poverty, they also mark an important investment in the future:
Wait, we’re not done yet. Food stamps greatly reduce food insecurity among low-income children, which, in turn, greatly enhances their chances of doing well in school and growing up to be successful, productive adults. So food stamps are in a very real sense an investment in the nation’s future — an investment that in the long run almost surely reduces the budget deficit, because tomorrow’s adults will also be tomorrow’s taxpayers.
As always, Krugman makes excellent points.  However, in the rest of his article, he lays the blame solely on Republicans, particularly House Republicans. If only. 
The House version of the farm bill, which cuts a disquieting $20.5 billion over ten years from SNAP, passed out of Committee by a vote of 36-10.  There are 25 Republicans and 21 Democrats on the farm bill.  That means that fewer than half of the Democratic members on the Committee voted against the bill.  It would have passed without any Democratic support, but 11 Democrats couldn't even bring themselves to engage in symbolic opposition to the destructive bill.

Moreover, Krugman focused on the House while ignoring the Senate, which is still in Democratic control. The Senate version of the farm bill doesn't cut SNAP as much as the House bill does, but it still cuts from the program at a time of great need. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is currently the head of the Ag Committee in the Senate, and she was in charge of drafting the bill, which currently cuts $4.1 billion from food stamps over ten years.  The Democrats, obviously, are the majority in the Ag Committee and could have held their ground much more firmly.  Rather, as Democrats so often do, Stabenow has expressed a willingness to accept even steeper cuts to the program.

Senate Democrats had a chance to restore the funding to SNAP.  Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) put forth an amendment that would have restored SNAP funding by reducing crop insurance reimbursement (i.e. farm subsidies), protecting social welfare by reducing corporate welfare.  It failed 70-26, not even achieving a majority of the Democratic caucus.  Don't worry, though, we'll still keep subsidizing tobacco and artificially inflating the price of sugar so that food manufacturers turn to HFCS instead.

I admit that Senate Republicans are much worse.  Sen. Inhofe (R-OK) put forth an amendment that would have slashed SNAP funding further and turned it into a block grant program.  Thankfully, that failed 36-60.  Republicans, unlike Democrats, also have a fierce ideological opposition to the very existence of SNAP; you won't hear Democrats going on diatribes about "takers" (even though they deliver their paeans to the free market, too).  However, that still doesn't vindicate the Democrats.  It's one thing to have bad principles; it's another to have no principles at all.

No comments:

Post a Comment