Update: 16 Republican Senators voted to empower Harry Reid and expand Food Stamps. It is now up to House members to demand a full floor vote with amendments to this bill.
Last week, we noted that Harry Reid, with the help of Republican leadership, is attempting to come late to the 2012 budget game and commandeer the entire process through a series of 'minibus' bills. They are using House-passed appropriations bills as vehicles to tack on at least two additional disparate spending bills. Such a maneuver will allow the Senate to force a conference committee vote on spending measures and policies that the House never amended. Although the topline discretionary spending figure is already set, Reid is wagering that his fast track minibus strategy will allow him to override House-passed policies, while inserting his own policies into the bills. Thus far, he has been successful.
The first minibus is comprised of the House-passed Agriculture appropriations bill (HR 2112), along with the Senate's version of the Commerce-Justice-Science (S 1572) and Transportation-HUD (S 1596) measures. Democrats assert that this package, which authorizes $128 billion in discretionary spending, is actually $1 billion below last year's levels. To that end, it is slated to pass today with overwhelming bipartisan support.
The problem is that this bill will actually increase spending. As Senator Sessions observed, this bill increases spending by $2.2 billion because it contains extra emergency spending – without any offsets. Moreover, this bill increases mandatory spending by $8 billion on Food Stamps. The Food Stamp program (SNAP) is, by far, the fastest growing government program, as it is emblematic of Obama’s socialist transformation of our country. In just three years, SNAP enrollment has jumped from 27 million to 45 million, while its budget has doubled to over $77.6 billion for FY 2011. Yet, many Republicans are ready to sign their life away to Harry Reid, and help grow this program by 10%.
Two weeks ago, Senator Sessions attempted to cut spending on Food Stamps by eliminating “categorical eligibility.” This is a practice in which states automatically grant Food Stamps to people who had received a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families brochure or contacted a pregnancy hotline funded by that program. Categorical eligibility allows many people to enroll in SNAP who would otherwise be disqualified because of their income level. Last year, members of the Government Accountability Office flagged this wasteful practice, and called for congressional action. Unfortunately, Sessions’s amendment to the minibus bill was defeated with the help of six Republicans.
Today, the Senate will be voting on final passage of the minibus bill, following votes on six Republican amendments. While these are very constructive amendments, Democrats (and many Republicans) will invariably vote them down. As such, Republicans must vote against final passage of this bill. If the bill passes the Senate, House conservatives must oppose efforts of their leadership to steer the minibus away from the House floor directly into the hands of the appropriators in conference committee. Conservatives must get a chance to vote down pernicious policies and extraneous spending in bills that never saw daylight in the House.