That’s unwise, for two reasons. First, just as the GOP says President Barack Obama’s decision on not deporting young illegal immigrants is wrong, without comprehensive immigration reform, taking aim at this segment of government assistance is doomed to failure without addressing the welfare system overall.
And second, targeting a popular — and often vital — assistance program in an election year is political foolishness. There are many, many programs rife with waste and fraud that can and should be tackled first — which won’t result in the backlash and the reinforcing of the Democrats’ campaign theme that Mitt Romney and the GOP are out of touch with Americans.
Many in the GOP seem worried that the number of Americans receiving food stamps has increased.
But they shouldn’t be. The number of enrollees has skyrocketed for the very reasons that could propel Republicans into office. By official measures, the Great Recession ended years ago. But not in the minds and household budgets of average Americans. Long-term unemployment is the underlying cause here; as Obama’s economic policies have failed to revive the economy, family resources have been depleted. People who never thought they’d ever ask for a government handout find themselves signing up for SNAP. Republicans should be reaching out to these folks, not demonizing them.
And from a policy standpoint, food stamps are the least objectionable form of welfare. Sure, there are abuses. There’s waste and fraud, as in every other form of assistance. But the built-in safeguards ensure that by and large, Lone Star Cards — the Texas version of food stamps — are used for their intended purpose. Recipients can’t use them to buy alcohol or non-food items.
Reforming food stamps is a worthy goal, but it’s unrealistic (and unwise) without undertaking overall welfare reform. The GOP has a pretty good record of doing just that; welfare reform in 1996 helped bring down poverty. But it only worked because it was a comprehensive effort.
Likewise, cutting food stamps in an election year is political idiocy. It’s a battle Republicans can’t win — they’ll win no majority in the House, the Senate has already spoken and rejected bigger cuts, and Obama would doubtless veto the entire bill rather than compromise on this point. So even if Republicans won the argument, they would lose the battle, and ultimately the war.
That doesn’t mean savings can’t be found in the Farm Bill. There’s plenty of low-hanging fruit — corporate welfare to agribusiness that doesn’t need the help, for example.
Political wisdom is found in picking your battles. This is a battle the GOP can’t win, and shouldn’t even fight.