Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) has some priorities for her role as one of the members of a conference committee working to hash out a budget deal between the House and Senate. “Not to cut anymore out of SNAP,” the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, she told ThinkProgress. “Not to block grant it. Not to block grant Medicaid.” Protect Pell Grants and other safety net programs from cuts. “I think that if we could get away with those things, it would be a good day.”
After House and Senate Republicans put forward their budget proposals last month, the Senate passed its version after a “vote-o-rama” session that allowed Senators to vote on a number of amendments. Then last week, the Senate voted to go to conference with the House to reconcile differences in the two different budget resolutions.
On Monday, the committee had its first meeting, where lawmakers made opening statements. While the real negotiating won’t come until later, the statements gave a sense of where everyone’s priorities lie. “Pretty much Democrats from both houses made some of the same points,” she said. Common themes included protecting social safety net programs and investing in infrastructure, early childhood education, and college affordability.
Moore does not expect much inclusion of her side’s goals, however. “What we suspect…is that the House Republicans and Senate Republicans will get together and come up with a package of their agreements, and Democrats will be excluded from that conversation,” she said.
But there are still ways she plans to flex some power. Both the House and Senate Republican budgets proposed block-granting SNAP, which would give states a fixed amount of money to administer the program and result in an estimated $125 billion cut, or more than a third of the program. The idea came up again in the first committee meeting. “There were extensive conversations in the House budget committee about giving states more flexibility with SNAP,” Moore noted. “We know that is proxy language for wanting to turn SNAP into a block grant, which would be absolutely catastrophic.”
But Democrats aren’t prepared to let them mess with the program. Moore even mentioned her opposition to SNAP cuts as one of the few specific items in her opening remarks. “If they try to use the budget reconciliation process to cut SNAP,” which would expedite any changes by only requiring a simple majority to approve them, “they’ll open up the Farm Bill and literally be opening up a can of worms in terms of the other provisions,” she promised. Such a move would put far more than just food stamps on the table, also including provisions for farms and agriculture. “That would be very different.”
The House also voted to repeal the estate tax last week, which would mean missing out on $246 billion in revenue over a decade and give relief to less than 5,000 wealthy families. Republicans didn’t offer a way to cover that lost revenue. “Our assumption…[is that] the $125 billion to be cut out of SNAP, we figure that this is their pay-for for stuff like repealing the estate tax.”
There are also some places she hopes to go on the offensive. “I think there are some openings that we can rely upon,” she said. She noted that during the Senate’s vote-o-rama session, 61 voted in favor of a paid sick leave measure, including some Republicans. “I’m at least hoping that gets to be a part of a final package.”
But she also pointed out that Republicans may have little incentive to find bipartisan agreement, given that any budget resolution they are able to come to isn’t legally binding. “Where the real fight will occur is with appropriators,” she noted. Lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee will be tasked with doling out funds to programs in its 12 subcommittees based on current limits set by sequestration and the Republican budget proposals. When House lawmakers attempted to do this in 2013, so many balked at voting for specific cuts that the vote was pulled for a lack of support. “I think that’s where we’ll see fireworks,” Moore said.