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Farming For Food Stamps

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Can a piece of legislation be a "farm bill" if nearly 80 percent of its spending goes to food stamps? According the United States Congress - yes.

The Senate passed its so-called farm bill - whose $970 billion price tag is 78 percent food stamps - on a 65-34 vote. There were 16 Republican "yes" votes. The House agriculture committee passed its so-called farm bill - whose $957 billion price tag is 79 percent food stamps - on a 35-11 vote. There were only four Republican "no" votes. Now Speaker John Boehner, who so far is holding firm, is coming under intense pressure to bring it to the floor. Let's be honest: it's not a farm bill. And Boehner should scuttle it permanently.

We now have one in every seven Americans on food stamps and the program is rife with waste, fraud, and abuse. The United States Department of Agriculture, which administers the program, has been running an aggressive marketing campaign to sign up as many people as possible. They are using Spanish-language ads in a soap opera style to sign up more people - and partnering with the Mexican government to reach Mexican nationals in the U.S. They are actively marketing to college students. There are reports of "food stamp parties" with gourmet meals paid for with food stamps. There are also the usual tales of corruption - merchants regularly accepting food stamps for booze and cigarettes and food stamps being directly laundered for cash.

Total food stamp spending doubled from less than $38 billion in 2008 to more than $80 billion this year. In 2008, President George W. Bush - not generally noted for spending restraint - vetoed a 2008 farm bill that he said cost too much but Congress overrode his veto. The bills currently under consideration spend a lot more than the amount Bush thought was too high.

Compare total food stamp spending over the past five years (2008-2012), which was $320 billion, with anticipated spending under the House "farm bill" over the next five years (2013-2017), which is $392 billion. That's $72 billion more than the level Bush vetoed - a 22 percent increase. The House bill does reduce spending versus the so-called baseline - the amount the government expects to spend - but by just 1.8 percent. This the Republicans count as an accomplishment and the Democrats denounce as if it were a major cut. It's tinkering around the edges. Overall, over the next ten years, the House bill would spend $756 billion on food stamps.

Quite simply, we cannot afford such a massive spending bill. We're already trillions in debt. All of this money is borrowed.

Supporters of the bill are now touting drought relief as a reason to bring the bill to the House floor. But an analysis by the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense found that just 0.2 percent of projected "farm bill" spending goes to disaster programs. They also point out that taxpayers already pick up about 60 percent of the cost for crop insurance, which covers losses during droughts.

The drought is a natural disaster. Tragic, but unavoidable - a feature of human experience since the dawn of time. The massive explosion in federal spending and debt, by contrast, is an entirely man-made disaster of new and unique dimensions. It is a disaster to burden our children and grandchildren with staggering debts before they are even born. And it is a disaster to have one in seven Americans on food stamps, dependent on someone else to feed them. Congress needs to fix the economy so people have jobs, not lock this in for another five years.

Republicans were elected to the House to stop spending. This is their chance to actually do it.

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