Senate cutting food stamps to pay for Medicaid and teacher funding
It's the Sophie's choice of budget decisions: Should we cut Medicaid? Fire teachers? Or slash food stamps?
How about all three? In order to get less Medicaid and teacher funding than we actually need, we're cutting food stamps by $6.7 billion (and closing some foreign tax loopholes, rescinding some spending decisions and changing Medicaid's drug pricing).
The reasoning for this is, well, I'll let Rep. David Obey lay it out. "The cost of food relative to what we thought it would be has come down, so people on food stamps are getting a pretty good deal in comparison to what we thought they were going to get," he explains. But is that really a reason to cut food stamps? Obey didn't think so. "Some poor bastard is going to get a break for a change," he said.
Some background: The Recovery Act included an immediate 13.6 percent increase in food stamps (which are now known as SNAP). That increase equals out to a maximum of $80 per household -- and these are not rich households. But the price of food has leveled out, and in some cases decreased, in the recession. Meanwhile, the number of people who needed help skyrocketed to more than 40 million. For that reason, the program's costs ballooned from an expected $20 billion to about $65 billion. The new price tag scared some, so people began talking about cutting the benefits back.
And here we are. Democrats needed to offset spending on two worthy, important programs. So they're cutting another important, worthy program. But you really can't think of a worse program to cut than SNAP. SNAP is an extraordinarily well-targeted stimulus. It goes to poor households, for something they need to buy. According to Mark Zandi's numbers, it's literally the most stimulative way to spend a dollar: Better than state and local aid, or unemployment insurance. You get more than $1.70 of economic activity for each buck you put in.
There's a part of me that wants to use this to knock down the canard that government is full of obvious waste and inefficiency. Democrats don't like to cut food stamps, and they'd avoid it if they thought they could. Budget rhetoric is full of easy choices, but budgets are about hard choices, and this is a hard, and ugly, choice.
But this is also a question of priorities, of what gets cut. Bernie Sanders put up an amendment last month to cut about $35 billion in oil and gas subsidies. It failed. Republicans are arguing to extend Bush's tax cuts for the rich with no offsets, and they may well succeed. But food assistance for poor families? You can get the votes to slash those.
Photo credit: Wonderlane/Flickr
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