Does cutting the country’s most important hunger prevention program represent a political strategy, a sincere belief in austerity or something deeper?
Recently, in a series of actions, Progressive Democrats of American in Illinois pressured Illinois Senator Richard Durbin to explain why he and almost all other Senate Democrats voted for an agricultural bill that cuts $4 billion from the SNAP (formally food stamps), a key part of the nation's food safety net.
The Senate bill passed 66 to 27 with only the two Democratic senators voting against it.
Progressive Democrats of Greater Springfield (P-DOGS) and Action Now rallied outside Illinois Senator Durbin’s office demanding to know why he (and many other Senate Democrats) voted for cuts.
PDA-Illinois sent a state-wide action alert asking PDA members to contact Durbin’s office and urging him to restore SNAP eligibility cuts.
Then a few weeks later, House Democrats voted against their version of the Senate bill?
WHAT'S GOING ON?
Background: In June, the Senate passed The Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 (S.954) 66 to 27. Only two Democrats voted no, both from Rhode Island (?). The bill provides billions of dollars in subsidies to owners of agricultural land as well as funds for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (formally called food stamps).
But the bill cuts roughly $4 billion from that cornerstone of our Nation's food assistance safety net, by reducing eligibility.
Cutting SNAP funding hurts veterans, seniors, the disabled, and 7 million kids in America. Plus SNAP funding makes sense economically because it stimulates the economy, returning $1.84 for every dollar spent on the program.
A few weeks later, the House Democrats with help from Republicans rejected their version of the Senate Ag bill, HR 1947. Good thing too, because it called for cutting nearly $20 billion from SNAP. In a policy statement the Obama Administration strongly opposed the House version of the bill because they say it makes "unacceptably deep cuts in SNAP, which could increase hunger among millions of families with children and senior citizen's." The same could be said about the Senate version.
The Administration statement further says the President would likely veto the House bill, but says nothing about whether he would sign the Senate bill.
WHAT'S GOING ON?
During one of this country's most severe economic downturns Democratic Senators vote almost unanimously to cut eligibility for the nation's most important hunger prevention program giving no explanation.
Then the Republican controlled House takes up their version of the bill which contains Draconian cuts to SNAP of up to $20 billion. Those cuts are just one part of the Republican's brutal austerity push. Fortunately it was defeated. 172 Democrats and 24 Republicans vote against that measure.
But the Congress has to pass a farm bill because it provides funding for SNAP. Without it there will be no money at all to feed the hungry.
What is the Democratic strategy driving these opposite actions?
One theory is that the Democratic leaders are playing the old good cop, bad cop scenario. We’ve seen this movie before. The Democrats offer the Republicans modest cuts ostensibly to attract enough Republican votes, but it’s like throwing one pork chop to a pack of hungry lions. The lions want more, and the pressure to pass some bill, any bill, grows.
So the Democrats concede greater and greater cuts until they attract enough Republican and conservative Democratic votes to pass the bill. While the cuts will be deep and very hurtful to millions, the Democrats, if history is any guide, will cry the “Republicans made us do it.”
Then they will take that story into the next election denouncing Republican intransigence and cruelty and boasting “We did the best we could and saved something for the poor folks. Vote for us again.” Obama calls that kind of caving in, pragmatic politics.
Why are the Democrats even engaging in this kind charade? Well for one thing it works. By blaming Republicans, Democrats have been able to retain their voter base and appease their big donors, which enable them to win elections.
But there is a deeper explanation I think. The corporate and wealthy elites who fund both parties and many liberal foundations and top universities, have more or less agreed that this country needs deep austerity to regain our “competitiveness” in the global economy. That means cutting the social safety net to the bone.
The goal is not just to balance the federal budget, not just to win an election, but in my opinion, it is to force workers to take jobs that offer lower wages, fewer benefits and absolutely no job security. Workers with food stamps, unemployment compensation, health care etc., can avoid taking part-time $7 dollar an hour jobs at least for a while. Workers who have no safety net must accept immediately what ever the brutal economic jungle offers.
In the elite view, that kind of totally “free” market economy will make the US more competitive in the global economy and their investments more profitable. Ugly, but true.
Our two major political parties are carrying out elite wishes but in different ways. One party offers quick brutal cuts and a "screw you" attitude. The other takes a gentler, slower approach to cuts and combines that with compassionate rhetoric, “We feel your pain” and promises to fight off future attacks. Unfortunately, both approaches will bring us to the same brutal destination.
Progressives must demand explanations from our allies in the Democratic Party as to why they are supporting the elite attack on the social safety net. We should also demand Prosperity, not Austerity. Let's expand the social safety net through Medicare for All and expanded social security benefits.
Progressives have to step outside the good cop bad script because in the real world, they both want to lock you up.