By passing the current Farm Bill, Congress just took $9 billion in food stamps from hungry and poor families and gave it to big agribusiness companies as more corporate welfare. But President Obama could send the bill back to Congress with the stroke of a pen and refuse to sign it until Congress properly funds the food stamp programme. He could do this to make a larger populist point about the need for stronger safety nets in the new gilded age.
The biggest problem with the Farm Bill is the way that $9 billion in food stamps were cut. This was done in a way that was meant to be political. In his most recent email, Congressman Alan Grayson says that he doesn’t like the current bill because it changes how people automatically get food stamps. Under the old system, people who already got help from the Low-Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP) would be more likely to get food stamps as well, since their income could be reduced by $644 with the full standard utility allowance (FSUA). In their new Farm Bill, the House GOP cut food stamps by making it harder for LIHEAP recipients to get food stamps by making changes to the FSUA qualifications.
Congressman Grayson pointed out that poor Republican families in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee would still be able to get food stamps, but poor Democratic families in colder states like Illinois, Maine, and Massachusetts would have to jump through more hoops to get food stamps. Putting aside the false argument that a rich country like ours doesn’t have the money to make sure poor people have food, it is incredibly cruel and politically motivated to judge food stamp applicants based on whether or not they get help paying for their heating.
Inequality is already a big problem, and the decline of the middle class in the U.S. is well known. The New York Times recently published an article called “The Middle Class is Steadily Eroding, Just Ask the Business World.” It talked about how middle-class businesses and restaurants that don’t cater to either cheap shoppers or high-end boutique shoppers and restaurants are going out of business. And, according to the Wall Street Journal, between 2009 and 2012, about 95% of all income gains went to the top 1%. If anything, Americans need safety nets like food stamps much more than anyone else.
One of the main points of President Obama’s last State of the Union address was the need to do something about the growing gap between regular people and the super-rich. He even signed an order that said federal contractors had to pay their workers $10.10 an hour, and he asked more businesses to pay their workers enough to live on. Obama said he knew his job didn’t give him a lot of power and that he would have to work with Congress to get things done. But the office of the President also shows how important it is to have checks and balances in our government.
The Senate passed the Farm Bill with a vote of 68-32, which means a presidential veto could still be overridden. However, the House vote of 251-166 means that if Obama vetoed the Farm Bill, there wouldn’t be enough votes for the two-thirds majority needed to override his veto. Then, Congress would have to get together to write a new bill that is more fair.
Not everything in the Farm Bill is bad. This is the first full Farm Bill since 2008, and it is clear that a good Farm Bill will meet many needs. The version that is ready for the President to sign puts $1.2 billion into programmes to help new farmers, local food, organic agriculture, rural development, and specialty crops over the next five years. Last year, all of these programmes came out on the losing end. But if he used his veto, the President could say that the current bill has both good and bad parts. He could praise the language that pays for local food programmes and ask for food stamps to be properly funded before the Farm Bill is good enough.
This Friday, in Michigan, President Obama will sign the Farm Bill. But he could make a big splash by vetoing the bill and refusing to sign it until the poorest Americans get the help they need, deserve, and pay for.