At a rally last week in Wichita, Kansas, as Vice President Mike Pence kicked off a swing of campaign appearances across the Midwest, he unveiled a new GOP talking point. “We’re gonna stand firm and get a farm bill that includes work requirements for people—able-bodied Americans—on food stamps so we get people back into the workforce and back enjoying the dignity of work,” Pence told the crowd gathered at an old hangar near McConnell Air Force Base. “We’re going to do it.”
He’s probably wrong. The evidence that the new work requirements will hurt more than they help is mounting. And the fight over their inclusion in the farm bill isn’t a partisan one; it’s a fight between the House and the Senate. Facing opposition from within their party, House Republicans can’t muscle the bill through on their own. Even if Republicans keep control of the House after the midterms—a possibility looking more unlikely by the day—it’s likely they’ll end up caving to the Senate and cut the stricter provisions entirely.
The political motivation behind Pence’s new talking point seems clear. First of all, there’s the implication that it’s congressional Democrats’ opposition to tougher work requirements that’s holding up passage of the broader farm bill—a useful angle in farm country, where many farmers’ future planning is in limbo until they can be certain of the crop insurance and commodity supports they expect to receive through the legislation. And then there’s the long history of Republicans playing to stereotypes about the kind of people who receive welfare benefits, often in racially coded terms.