Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Food Stamp President: Obama or Bush?

We've all been annoyed by Obama's reflexive tendency to blame George Bush for everything bad in the world. But, what I find even more galling, not to mention exasperating, is how he responds to complaints about this or that bloated government program by saying said program "actually began during my predecessor's administration." Somehow, this is enough of a dodge that he doesn't have to explain how a modest program (or even something as little as a proposal sketched out in a memo) grew into a monster under his auspices. He did this with Fast & Furious, for example, even though the differences between the Bush F&F (a rogue operation in Tuscon that was quickly shut down) and the Obama F&F (a secretive smuggling program directed from the highest reaches of the Justice Department) are of orders of magnitude. 

Today's example, via Casey Mulligan via GMU's David Henderson, is Obama's approach to responses to complaints about the ever-expanding food stamp program. You may recall Newt Gingrich's awesome rhetorical punch calling Obama the "Food Stamp President" because libs had so relaxed the eligibility rules, and ruined job-creation, that millions now qualified for EBT cards who once would not have. That set off howls of "racism" from the media and Dems and sent Obama back to the "blame Bush" well:
First of all, I don't put people on food stamps. People become eligible for food stamps. Second of all, the initial expansion of food-stamp eligibility happened under my Republican predecessor, not under me. Number three, when you have a disastrous economic crash that results in 8 million people losing their jobs, more people are going to need more support from government.
Jeez, defensive much?

As Mulligan explains, (quoting Wikipedia) the truth was that Bush vetoed the 2008 Farm Bill that relaxed the eligibility rules, and Congress - then controlled by Democrats - overruled the veto. And, when Congress realized it had excluded 34 pages from the bill it sent up to Bush (he was the dumb one, remember), Congress passed the bill again; Bush vetoed it again; and Congress overrode it again. So, yeah, food stamp expansion began during the Bush administration, but not really because of anything Bush did. 

As is typical of these things, then-Senator Obama abstained from voting on the two bills or on the two overrides; the better to preserve his moderate veneers, my pretties. 

There's a lot of grousing that Bush blew up spending and paved the way for Obama, but the grousers seem to not account for the fact that, starting in 2006, Bush faced a hostile Congress filled with incipient leftists who were a couple years away from passing the Stimulus and Obamacare. (prior to that, he was clearly using domestic spending programs to hold his congressional war coalition together. Yet another reason why American wars should be short, sharp and to the point). 

Yes, the TARP bill was appalling, but that at least was a panicked response to an emergency. (and passed with the votes of the supposed "moderates" whom we now deride as the Ruling Class). No one was thinking clearly in those days. It's the expansion of the welfare state that was done coolly and deliberately. As the Food Stamp story shows, Bush was often working to rein in congressional spending, but was doing so from a hopelessly weak position. 

Still, liberals desperately need to be able to point to some wisp of GOP support for the failures of their programs. Former governor Schwarzennegar serves that role in California.* And, Obama is right: food stamp expansion did begin "under" Bush. It was just begun over his politically dead body. 

* and already you are hearing people say that the impending bankruptcy in Stockton, CA is due to spending by former GOP mayor Gary Podesto. The unions and Democrats had nothing to do with it! 

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