If House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was expecting a thank you from the Freedom Caucus and other Republican nihilists for capitulating to them and agreeing to renege on the debt ceiling agreement he made with President Joe Biden, he doesn’t know the extremists: Of course they’re not happy. They don’t necessarily know what they want, but they do know they want to raise hell about it. And as usual, the likeliest victims are the most vulnerable Americans.
What this means is that all the big must-pass bills besides the 12 appropriations bills are going to be a massive fight, none more so than the reauthorization of the farm bill, and with it the fight that the extremists are still mad about: food assistance. That includes again trying to force everyone getting SNAP aid to prove they’re working, and also banning universal free school meals.
The extremists don’t think the concessions McCarthy made to them are good enough and want to make sure, in the words of Florida Man Rep. Matt Gaetz, that they aren’t using “budgetary gimmicks” to move money around, but are actually taking it away from programs. Like the Community Eligibility Provision in the National School Lunch Program. The budget released by the Republican Study Committee, which comprises the hardest-right 175 or so House members, rescinds the program that provides for universal free school meals in areas that qualify economically.
It’s not that huge of a program now, but it does mean that in low-income areas, school meals are available to all the kids and none of them have to be ashamed or subject to school authorities embarrassing them in front of their schoolmates, by, for instance, ripping food away from them because they have school lunch debt. It also means that all of the kids receive at least one or two nourishing meals every day and are ready to learn.
That program is run by the Food and Nutrition Service, part of the Department of Agriculture, and is just one of many programs that will need to be reauthorized in the farm bill. So is SNAP, as the food stamp program is now called. The hardliners among the House Republicans are still mad that McCarthy “watered down” his demands for work requirements in the debt ceiling deal, and they are going to demand to be appeased this time. McCarthy has supposedly told his more reasonable colleagues that they’ll have to appease the extremists, and at least fight for tougher restrictions.
Plenty of House Republicans don’t want to hear that.
“We’ve negotiated a new level of requirements on SNAP and I think it’s time to move forward from there,” Rep. John Duarte of California told Politico. Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska agrees. “You can’t just have an agreement and then say we’re gonna change it,” Bacon said. “In the end, if we get a bipartisan bill, you’ll get enough Democrats on board where [opposition from some far-right House Republicans] won’t be an issue.”
Even one Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee, who serves on the Agriculture Committee, is worried about what his pals could be doing on the farm bill. “I don’t have a lot of confidence of anything passing the House anymore under the current environment,” he told Politico, adding “there’s certain members … that I don’t think anybody can change their opinions.”
He’s not wrong. There’s a bunch of them just spoiling for a fight, any fight, even if it’s with each other. "There are many country club Republicans up here that seem perfectly content to manage the decline of this country," Rep. Eli Crane of Arizona said on a right-wing radio show this week.
If you’re keeping score, that’s the Freedom Caucus and fringe members fighting with each other, with other House Republicans, with Senate Republicans, and with McCarthy, who will undoubtedly capitulate to them in the end. They’ve agreed with the majority of Democrats that the appropriation bills they pass will meet the debt ceiling agreement, roughly $120 billion more in spending than the House now says it will provide.
Over in the Senate, Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, has said point-blank that Congress is “done” talking work requirements. They won’t be in her bill.
Beyond that, Senate Republicans (who disproportionately represent federally funded farm states) as a whole don’t like making waves on the farm bill. They want it to pass and they want their constituents and friends in the agriculture lobby groups to be happy. Many also recognize that rural communities need food assistance as much as urban ones, and have decided that’s not a fight they need to have. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has made a point of calling out the farm bill as a major priority.
This bill is going to be moving apart from, and in parallel to, the funding bills, but with plenty of cross-contamination in the battles. Just like the spending fight will almost certainly end in a government shutdown, the farm bill will probably limp into next year without having been reauthorized, dragging well into the 2024 campaign cycle. That is exactly the thing McConnell wants to avoid. Maybe he can help McCarthy and the rest of the Republicans find some spine to stand up to the nihilists.
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There have been sooo many hot takes about the 2022 midterms, which is why we're joined on this week's episode of "The Downballot" by Michael Frias and Hillary Anderson of the progressive data firm Catalist to discuss their data-intensive report on what actually happened. They explain how they marry precinct-level election results with detailed voter files to go far beyond what the polls can tell us. Among the findings: Highly competitive races were much more favorable to Democrats than less-contested ones; Republicans paid a "MAGA tax" by nominating extreme candidates; and non-college white women shifted toward Democrats by notable margins compared to 2020.