By James M. Perry
The ghost of Ebenzer Scrooge seems to be running things in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives these days.
How else to explain the House's vote to eliminate food stamps from the farm bill while continuing subsidies for rich corporate farmers?
Food stamps have been around since 1964. People who qualified were given a booklet containing coupons -- food stamps, brown ones worth $1, blue ones worth $5 and green ones, worth $10. The recipient, typically, would rip coupons out of his or her booklet and pay for groceries at the check-out counter. Now, though, the food stamp program is called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and recipients use a kind of debit card instead of booklets containing coupons. The average SNAP benefit in 2012 was $134.29 a month.
It's a boondoggle, Scrooge Republicans say. It's a hammock, instead of a safety net. Worse, the program is riddled with fraud. It's a welfare program, and Republicans have opposed welfare programs for a long time. Ronald Reagan liked to babble about his "welfare queen" from Chicago's South Side who had 80 names, 30 addresses "and she's getting food stamps."
There are, of course, instances of fraud in the program. That's inevitable, but there's less than there used to be, and most of the villains are the people who accept the debit card payments.
House Republicans keep erecting these fantasy problems to legitimatize their attacks on folks who tend to vote Democratic. The food stamp program is riddled with fraud, so eliminate it, or, at least, cut it way back. Voter fraud is a serious problem, so make it tougher for poor people to vote. Thousands of Hispanics are pouring across our southern border with Mexico, so build more fences and hire more border crossing guards.
There is, of course, no large-scale fraud in food stamps or in voting booths and the number of people illegally crossing into the United States is steadily declining.
What is it about, then?" Paul Krugman asked in his column in the New York Times the other day.
"Somehow, one of our two great parties has become infected by an almost pathological meanness.... If you're an American, and you're down on your luck, these people (the Scrooges) don't want to help; they want to give you an extra kick. I don't fully understand it, but it's a terrible thing to behold."
What's so hard to understand is that the food stamp program works, feeding poor, hungry people. many of them children, every day and at the same time stimulating the economy.
"The cold within him (Scrooge) froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue... " Charles Dickens wrote. What we need now in the House of Representatives is redemption for our red-eyed tea-party Scrooges-- maybe the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and yet to come.
James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, is contributing regular observations for post-gazette.com. Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.