Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., will be one of a few lawmakers helping to determine whether the funding for nation’s food stamps program stays intact.
The House voted Thursday to lop off $40 billion from the nutrition program, known as SNAP, over the course of the next decade. Congress has, in past years, grafted SNAP funding to the omnibus Farm Bill, but the House broke with that tradition in July, splitting the two pieces into separate bills.
That paved the way for the bill that passed Thursday, which was spearheaded by conservative House Republicans and makes a number of changes to the program. The cumulative impact of those changes would, according to the Congressional Budget Office, eliminate several million people from the program each year.
The bill ties benefits to finding a job or enrolling in a job-training program, and it removes a provision that automatically qualifies people enrolled in other benefits programs for the SNAP program.
Leahy’s office issued a blistering reproach in response to the House vote.
“This attack on one of the most vital strands of the already frayed poverty safety net is cobbled from myths and fueled by mean-spiritedness heaped on those who are struggling the most in our own communities,” Leahy said. “This kind of bumper-sticker politics, appealing to our worst instincts, is churlish, it is childish and it is irresponsible.”
The Senate is expected to reject the House bill, meaning that the legislation will end up in a conference committee.
Leahy, the senior member of the Agriculture Committee, was named one of the Senate’s conferees for the farm bill. His spokesperson, David Carle, said the senator is hopeful that the committee can avert debilitating cuts to the program.
The Senate bill, which still includes the farm component, also contains cuts to SNAP, but they are much milder, about one-10th of what the House passed.
Carle said Leahy doesn’t believe House Republicans can commandeer the legislation much longer, and the final product should fall closer to the Senate bill.
“House leaders are going to have to recognize sooner or later that they are going to need House Democratic support to get this done, and to support something closer to the bipartisan bill passed by the Senate,” Carle wrote in an email.
Asked about the likelihood that Congress will fail to pass a Farm Bill, Carle responded, “The House refusal to get the Farm Bill done last year and the obstacles put in its way this year already are unprecedented. It is difficult to imagine that they will let this unacceptable situation fester much longer.”
Leahy has also pointed to the slim voting margin — the bill passed 217-210 — and its partisan breakdown as a sign that the conference committee will be able to scale back those cuts.
Before conference negotiations begin, however, some procedural wrangling will have to take place in the House in order to get all three bills into that committee. “It remains to be seen just how it will happen procedurally,” Carle said.
The other two-thirds of Vermont’s congressional delegation — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt. — are no fans of the House’s SNAP proposal, either. Before voting against the bill, Welch gave a minute-long floor speech describing it as “cynical” and a “political statement, not a practical policy.” Sanders, on MSNBC, decried the legislation as “beyond shameful.”