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Published October 07, 2013, 10:27 AM

Food stamp bill's fatal flaw: extreme partisanship

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., raised good points in his recent column about the House food-stamp bill.

By: Tom Dennis, Agweek

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., raised good points in his recent column about the House food-stamp bill.

And maybe he’s right. Maybe the reforms passed by House Republicans just “encourage able-bodied people to work,” as Cramer suggests. Maybe the “categorical eligibility” loophole that “lets lottery winners and millionaires receive food stamps” deserves to be closed. It sure sounds like it.

But if Cramer’s right, one big question remains:

Why didn’t any Democrats vote for the bill?

Make that two questions:

Why did 15 Republicans vote against it?

A key indicator that Americans use to judge reasonableness is whether a bill wins bipartisan support. The welfare reform law of 1996, with its work requirements and strict time limits, won solid support on both sides of the aisle. That law remains broadly supported today.

In contrast, the Affordable Care Act passed without any Republican votes. Not coincidentally, House and Senate Republicans remain bitter about the slight and are fighting the law to this day.

As Cramer knows, America could have avoided all kinds of turmoil if Barack Obama had pledged to sign a health care reform bill only if it enjoyed significant bipartisan support.

Why didn’t the GOP insist on that same standard on something as sensitive as foodstamp reform?

If the House bill’s merits are that plain, some number of Democrats should have voted for it. Moderate-to-conservative Democrats such as Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., have independent streaks and often break with the party line.

But now, instead of hearing supportive statements about the bill from independent-streak Democrats, we’re hearing critical statements from independent-streak Republicans. Statements such as this one:

“Portions of my district are suffering from more than 30 percent unemployment, making it nearly impossible for many to find work despite their best efforts,” says Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., as reported by “It is unfair to the American people for Congress to implement policies containing work requirements when our national economy is severely suffering.”

And this one:

“Cuts of this magnitude will only make it harder on families in West Virginia that are struggling to get by,” says Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

And this one:

“I voted against this legislation due to the high probability that should it be enacted, work requirements would be imposed on struggling parents from all walks of life — including mothers of young children who may need or want to be at home to care for them during the day,” says Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y.

Reform bills that are models of reasonableness don’t pass on party-line votes. House Republicans should have worked harder to understand and accommodate their opponents’ objections, then crafted a bill that could have won bipartisan support — exactly as they wish Democratic supporters of health care reform had done in 2009 and 2010.

Editor’s note: Dennis is the opinion editor for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota.