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“What States’ Rights?”: House GOP Fights For Food-Stamp Cuts

Ordinarily, when conservative policymakers complain about “fraud” and “cheating” in federal programs intended to help poor people eat food, they’re referring to individuals accused of abusing the system unfairly. But over the last few days, congressional Republicans are using familiar rhetoric in an unfamiliar way.

Republican leaders are threatening to take congressional action to stop state governors from flouting the food stamp cuts contained in the 2014 farm bill.

The governors of at least six states – New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Montana and Oregon – have now taken measures to protect more than a combined $800 million in annual Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, and more states are expected to follow suit. Their actions threaten – over time – to wipe out the more than $8 billion in cuts over 10 years to the food stamp program that were just passed by Congress as part of the 2014 farm bill.

But those who initially supported the food stamp cuts are warning that retaliatory actions may be coming.

As a policy matter, the underlying change is a little tricky. Republicans successfully cut food aid to the poor – though not nearly as much as they’d hoped – which mostly affected 17 states that participate in the “Heat and Eat” program, which connects federal LIHEAP (Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program) assistance with SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

At last count, six of the affected governors – five Democrats and one Republican – have decided to start fiddling with the books, moving money around so low-income constituents won’t lose their food benefits. Other governors appear eager to do the same.

And this has apparently outraged Republicans on Capitol Hill. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters late last week that he wants Congress to “try to stop this cheating and this fraud from continuing.” Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), who helped write the relevant legislation, wants a full congressional investigation and new measures intended to guarantee food-stamp cuts.

Remember, the “cheating” and “fraud” is in reference to state officials trying to help low-income residents access food.

For its part, the Obama administration seems a lot less concerned than Congress.

Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) expressed anger Friday over the possibility that none of the cuts to the SNAP program would be realized and asked USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack during an appropriations hearing whether he had any inside knowledge that states would nullify the benefit reductions.

Vilsack said he didn’t know or suspect what the states would do, but defended their right to take action.

“Frankly, as a former governor and former state senator, I respect the role of governors and legislatures to make decisions that they think are in their state’s best interests,” Vilsack said.

GOP lawmakers found this unsatisfying. Expect to hear quite a bit more about this in the coming weeks.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 17, 2014

March 19, 2014 Posted by | House Republicans, SNAP, States Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Sequester Will Help The Economy”: Another Right-Wing Fairy Tale Debunks Itself

Remember all those fearless predictions by the usual grinning idiots on the right about how the sequester was going to work miracles for the economy? Well guess what? That never happened.

I know, I know. I’m trying to recover from the shock.

The sequester took effect on March 1, so we now have three months’ worth of jobs data that have been released in its aftermath. The results have been underwhelming, to say the least. As Brad DeLong observed this week, we are still in a depressed economy. And as Ed noted yesterday, the latest monthly jobs report was thoroughly mediocre.

I particularly wanted to highlight the point the New York Times’ Annie Lowrey made: that the report shows that the sequester is already, specifically beginning to have a negative impact on employment. Yesterday’s report shows that the federal workforce, which has suffered cutbacks due to the sequester, is shrinking at a dramatically accelerated rate:

Federal employment had been on a downward trend since the start of 2011, with the government shedding about 3,000 or 4,000 positions a month through February. Then sequestration hit on March 1. And in the last three months, the federal work force has shrunk by about 45,000 positions, including 14,000 in May alone.

Those newly unemployed federal workers, of course, now have less money to spend, which will also slow down the economy. In addition, the sequester is also causing cuts in programs like unemployment benefits and benefits to low-income people such as aid for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Benefits to the unemployed and low-income folks act not only as a social safety net, but also as stimulus, since poor people and the jobless are likely to spend every penny they’ve got. Now, less of that money will be going into the pockets of those people and thus into the economy at large. That will also hurt the economic recovery, such as it is.

So, for those of you keeping score at home? The right wing/free market fundamentalists/austerity caucus? They are wrong. Again. And once again, they are continuing to drive the economy, and the country, into the ground.

 

By: Kathleen Geier, Washington Monthly Political Animal, June 8, 2013

June 9, 2013 Posted by | Economy, Sequester | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sen. Snowe Puts Mainers Out In The Cold To Win Favor From Tea Party

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, acted in the best interests of her party's far right, not her constituents, when she voted last week in favor of the federal budget bill. (2009 AP file)

Sen. Olympia Snowe has apparently decided that it is better to bow to political pressure from the tea party movement than to stand up for the interests of Maine.

How else to explain her vote last week for a federal spending measure that would harm Maine’s economy while punishing thousands of Mainers, including seniors, veterans, preschool children, college students and families struggling to keep their oil furnace running?

It turns out that the tea party does not have to defeat U.S. senators to claim their seat. It just has to threaten them. If what Snowe voted for last week becomes law, 700,000 jobs are likely to be lost in Maine and across the country.

This is not according to a Democratic think-tank, but an economic adviser to the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, Mark Zandi.

NO TO HEAT ASSISTANCE

Snowe voted to throw tens of thousands of Maine families off of a lifeline that enables them to get through a Maine winter. She voted to cut the emergency energy assistance program — LIHEAP — by 66 percent, literally tossing Maine families out of the program and into the cold.

She voted to undermine services to Maine seniors who benefit from the Medicare program. Payments benefitting seniors who participate in the Medicare Advantage program, for instance, would be suspended, according to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. And Snowe’s vote would create “significant disruption” to providers, suppliers and seniors who use Medicare.

Snowe voted to cut 3,500 positions from the Social Security administration, guaranteeing extended delays in the distribution of basic retirement claims and disability payments. She voted to eliminate 10,000 supportive housing vouchers for homeless veterans.

Sen. Snowe voted to knock 218,000 kids out of the Head Start program and force 16,000 classrooms to close while cutting 1.7 million college students from the Pell Grant program — their lifeline to a college education.

From the seat once held by the environmental champion Sen. Edmund Muskie, Snowe voted to cut land and water conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, and one-third of the entire Environmental Protection Agency’s budget.

Make no mistake — this was not a vote about doing the difficult but right thing to confront the federal budget deficit.

A sober debate about reining in long-term federal deficits begins by recognizing that the first step to fiscal health is an economy that produces decent-paying jobs.

Jobs fill pockets with money to spend on goods and services that in turn create more jobs. These jobs produce revenue that reduces the federal deficit. You are not serious about fueling a fragile economic recovery when you slash hundreds of thousands of jobs with one vote.

You are not serious about balancing the federal deficit when you support maintaining the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans at a price of $2.5 trillion over 10 years — exactly the amount that congressional Republicans want to slash and burn from the federal budget over this same time period.

You are not serious about addressing the federal budget deficit when you repeatedly vote to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars for the war in Afghanistan.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone account for 23 percent of the federal budget deficit since 2003.

STATE CUTS HURT TOO

The Portland Press Herald’s Bill Nemitz quoted a Portland middle school librarian who drove to the State House in Augusta last week to testify against similar tea party-driven cuts to Maine’s state budget.

Kelley McDaniel described the cuts this way: “It’s not economically sound. It’s not morally sound. And I think you know that. I would be embarrassed to support something so ludicrous — taking from the poor to give to the rich. Maybe you are testing us, checking to see if we, your constituents, are really paying attention, really listening. I hope that’s what’s going on, because the alternative involves me losing faith in representative government, in democracy, and in you, the elected officials.”

Our fragile economic recovery, our kids, college students, seniors, veterans, environment and our health all took a hit on the floor of the U.S. Senate from a senator who was once described as independent.

Sen. Snowe might think that she made a prudent political calculation by bowing to the radical right of her party and placing her political interests ahead of the interests of her constituents. But she needs to know that Mainers are paying attention. And that the seat she is holding is Maine’s U.S. Senate seat. Not the tea party’s.

By: Tom Andrews, Former Maine U.S. Congressman, The Portland Press Herald, March 15, 2011

March 17, 2011 Posted by | Deficits, Economy, Education, Federal Budget, Jobs, Medicare, Politics, Sen Olympia Snowe, Teaparty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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