The Food Stamps Vote, and the House Democrats' Ability to Torture Boehner

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 20 2013 8:45 AM

The Food Stamps Vote, and the House Democrats' Ability to Torture Boehner

179418179
Should Democrats pin this guy, or help him up from the mat, enrage him, and hand him an assault weapon?

Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Early on Thursday evening, as House Republicans were still brushing confetti off their shoulders from the "defund Obamcare in the CR!" party, they barely passed a new version of the food stamps bill. They'd been unable to pass this funding in the standard way, by combining it with the farm bill, so that rural and urban members* have equal buy-in. Democrats had joined with Republicans to kill a comprehensive farm bill that cut the funding for food stamps. So Republicans split the legislation, passing a farm bill, then passing a food stamps bill that cut the program by $39 billion over a decade, a 5 percent reduction.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

Once again, Democrats refused to give Republicans any cover. None of the 200 Democrats currently serving in the House voted for the bill. Sixteen Republicans voted against it or didn't vote—not the usual hard-core conservative suspects, but ambitious or suburban Republicans like West Virginia Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and New Jersey Rep. Frank LoBiondo. (Georgia Rep. Phil Gingrey, who complained in a meeting this week that he only makes $172,000 a year, voted for the cuts.)

Advertisement

What does any of this mean for the CR? The version that defunds Obamacare will pass today; Republicans have already scheduled an 11 a.m. rally to celebrate that. Noam Scheiber argues that Democrats (and the White House) should let Boehner twist in the wind and deny the support that could salvage the CR when it comes back to the House.

What’s completely nuts is for Democrats to help Boehner pull this off when he otherwise couldn’t. One is tempted to describe it as helping an opponent off the mat when you have him nearly pinned, except that this would be far, far worse. It would be more like helping an opponent off the mat in such a way as to send him into a homicidal rage, then sticking an assault weapon in his hand and then trying to reason with him. Why on earth would anyone do that? 
Unfortunately, that’s exactly where we’re headed. The White House seems to think that helping Boehner avoid a shutdown will buy it some good will. In reality, avoiding the shutdown that the Tea Partiers have elevated into a test of ideological purity will only further enrage them.

The White House and Democrats are really invested in the public impression that they act in good faith and the GOP is constantly hankering for a crisis. Scheiber's strategem would play into the Ted Cruz theory, to an extent—a shutdown would be Democrats' "fault" because they could bail out Boehner and didn't. If they really think they could avoid blame for a shutdown, the strategy makes sense, assuming one more factor—that the public would actually understand and fear a shutdown. Given how little they've feared sequestration, I wouldn't bet much on this plan.

*Yes, food stamps don't just go to poor people in the cities, I know. But the political perception, for some Republicans worried about their voters, is that voting for food stamps is voting for layabouts sitting around surfing in LA or running scams in Detroit.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

  News & Politics
Over There
Sept. 22 2014 1:29 PM “That’s Called Jim Crow” Philip Gourevitch on America’s hypocritical interventions in Africa.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 22 2014 3:33 PM Killing With Kindness My in-laws want to throw me a get-well-from-cancer bash. There’s no way I can go.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 9:17 PM Trent Reznor’s Gone Girl Soundtrack Sounds Like an Eerie, Innovative Success
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 22 2014 12:15 PM The Changing Face of Climate Change Will the leaders of the People’s Climate March now lead the movement?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.