It's been four years since the recovery began, but for millions of people it never did. Jobs are still hard to come by, and policymakers have mostly given up trying to make them less so. But even worse than this malign neglect is House Republicans' plan to cut food stamps amidst our quiet depression.
It's cruel and unusual policy.
But at least it's cruel and unusual policy that won't happen. The farm bill failed in the House last week after conservative Republicans revolted over what they thought were too-small cuts, and liberal Democrats did over what they thought were too-big cuts to food stamps. As Josh Barro of Business Insider points out, food stamps will continue at their pre-stimulus levels as long as this deadlock continues. And that could be quite awhile. After all, the battle over food stamps isn't just a battle over budgets; it's another battle in our not-so-cold war over ideology. As the Wall Street Journal editorial page makes clear, conservatives think the welfare state is so generous that far too many people aren't, as they put it, "buying food, which is one of life's most basic responsibilities." In other words, they think the safety net has become a hammock stocked with snacks on the road to serfdom.
It's a question of incentives. House Republicans seem to think people on food stamps must just be lazy -- or worse. One Republican amendment to the farm bill would have allowed states to drug test food stamp recipients, and kick any positive test-takers off the rolls. It's the same idea Florida governor Rick Scott tried with welfare benefits -- and which cost the state money. Indeed, the Florida program didn't reduce the number of welfare applicants, but it did reduce the state's bottom line, because the cost of administering the drug tests outweighed the savings from the 2.5 percent of applicants who failed it. Fiscal conservatism!