It contradicts the very concept of our nation: One in six Americans goes hungry some of the time — that’s one in six who is “food insecure,” the term used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Forty-nine million in this land of plenty don’t get enough to eat. It’s even more shameful for children: One in five is deprived of adequate meals. But even that is not the worst. That would be the hateful vote by Republicans in the House of Representatives to severely cut the federal program that allows those millions to get the nutrition they need.
In their zeal to show scorn for the poor and any government program that might offer a helping hand, a majority of the GOP members in the House have decided to slash $4 billion a year from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as SNAP, and otherwise known as food stamps. That’s 5 percent of a program that is literally a lifeline for those who are unable to meet the most basic of needs in our cruel economy.
Fortunately, the White House has promised a veto, even if this got through a Democrat-majority Senate, which it won’t. The chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow, calls it “a monumental waste of time.” What it is is a monumental example of nastiness. For those in the House, this was just a symbolic vote, symbolic of heartlessness. It fails to measure up to the minimum standard of decency. Democrat Lloyd Doggett called it the “Let Them Starve” bill. President Barack Obama accuses the hard-liners of “trying to mess with me.” There’s little question about that.
Not that Republicans will suffer any political damage. After all, the impoverished don’t make campaign contributions. That’s left to the bloated special interests who want to expand their riches at the very same time the unfortunate are scraping for basic sustenance. Not only would this legislation sever millions of recipients starting next year, but it would treat many who remain with utter contempt, allowing states to require them to take drug tests.
It’s one thing if the zealots insist on trying to gut Obamacare with their equally futile votes to defund or delay health reform just as it’s ramping up. That’s just juvenile and self-destructive, since they’re ignoring warnings about how a government shutdown or forcing the nation into the humiliation of debt default would rain scorn on them. None of that is as low as cavalierly leaving Americans hungry.
But then, these are the same people who were unmoved by the Connecticut school shootings that left 20 elementary children among the 26 killed in a hail of fire from the assailant’s assault rifle. In spite of that horror, we have no new gun control. How pathetic it is that after the recent Navy Yard massacre, few even bothered to bring up the issue again.
As for immigration reform, which is designed to bring a humane element to this vexing problem, that, too, has been dying a slow death in the House of Reprehensible. “Humane” is not part of the tea-party repertoire. Ideology is — ideology based on social malice.
The next time you hear one of them talk about how the Republicans are trying to reduce government spending to make sure our children are not saddled with a crippling national debt, it’s fair to ask about a concern for the children today. What about that one in five who is malnourished and would be in real trouble were it not for the very programs they are trying to reduce just when the need is greatest. Our nation has a proud tradition of protecting the defenseless. But now, the GOP is dominated by harsh elements that would have us turn our backs on the most vulnerable and simply toss them aside. That’s beneath low.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.