Storms' bill faces an uphill battle. Republicans are wary of her effort, and Democrats won't do anything to restrict government subsidies to the poor. And even if it were to pass in Florida, it's unclear that a state can impose restrictions on how recipients of a federally funded program spend those benefits. But the principle is important -- and one that conservatives should embrace.
One of the reasons conservatives are suspicious of government benefits is that they always come with strings attached. If the government is directly paying for your housing, the food on your table or your medical care, it is reasonable to assume the government has some stake in how those funds are spent. The question is: How much of a stake? And how many restrictions can government impose?
The federal government already restricts many items that can be purchased under the food stamp program: liquor, tobacco, pet food, soap and cleaning products, among them. But the Department of Agriculture has opposed efforts to restrict food stamp purchase of snack and junk foods, claiming that doing so would make the program more cumbersome and wouldn't necessarily encourage most recipients to make better food choices.
On the latter point, the department says: "Food stamp recipients are no more likely than higher-income consumers to choose foods with little nutritional value." Maybe not, but at least non-beneficiaries are spending their own money to pack on the pounds and will likely pay for the health consequences of their choices out of their own pockets. So long as the taxpayers are paying at both ends, reasonable restrictions make sense.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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