Food Stamps Versus Educational 'Reform': Ketchup As a Vegetable for the 21st Century

I'm surprised that this revelation by Democratic Congressman David Obey hasn't received more attention. Basically, the House Democrats went to the wall for education and managed to get $10 billion to prevent teacher layoffs and an additional $5 billion for Pell Grants. To do so, they had to cut Obama's educational 'reform' program, Race to the Top, by about fifteen percent. This is the same so-called reform bill that screwed over Massachusetts' schools and that also weakened science education.

What was the Obama administration's response? According to Obey (italics mine):

The secretary of education [Arne Duncan] is whining about the fact he only got 85 percent of the money he wanted .... [W]hen we needed money, we committed the cardinal sin of treating him like any other mere mortal. We were giving them over $10 billion in money to help keep teachers on the job, plus another $5 billion for Pell, so he was getting $15 billion for the programs he says he cares about, and it was costing him $500 million [in reductions to the Race to the Top program]. Now that's a pretty damn good deal. So as far as I'm concerned, the secretary of education should have been happy as hell. He should have taken that deal and smiled like a Cheshire cat. He's got more walking around money than every other cabinet secretary put together.

It blows my mind that the White House would even notice the fight [over Race to the Top]. I would have expected the president to say to the secretary, "Look, you're getting a good deal, for God's sake, what this really does is guarantee that the rest of the money isn't going to be touched." We gave [Duncan] $4.3 billion in the stimulus package, no questions asked. He could spend it any way he wants. ... I trusted the secretary, so I gave him a hell of a lot more money than I should have....

We were told we have to offset every damn dime of [new teacher spending]. Well, it ain't easy to find offsets, and with all due respect to the administration their first suggestion for offsets was to cut food stamps. Now they were careful not to make an official budget request, because they didn't want to take the political heat for it, but that was the first trial balloon they sent down here. ... Their line of argument was, well, the cost of food relative to what we thought it would be has come down, so people on food stamps are getting a pretty good deal in comparison to what we thought they were going to get. Well isn't that nice. Some poor bastard is going to get a break for a change.

To start with, any honest discussion of food stamps recognizes that they simply don't provide enough food--all those elected officials and reporters who try to live on food stamps for a week learn this rather quickly.

But the bigger problem is that the Obama administration thought that screwing over desperate people was acceptable in pursuit of their educational ideology. Frankly, this is the same kind of 'ketchup is a vegetable' crap we heard from the Reagan and Bush administrations.

Even if Obama didn't know this was being done, it still says something about the man--the noble czar betrayed by his corrupt advisors story is wearing thin. And if he did approve this, then he is not a very good person. Instead of planting gardens at the White House, maybe the Obama family could help stock food pantries instead.

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You are arguing against educational funding? The one, most sure way we know of for long term addressment of most of society's ills longterm, is through broad-based, improved education. Food stamps and many other such direct assistance are much more appropriately reformed and adjusted in their own settings and if emergency funding is needed to sustain such programs it is much easier to obtain and push through a democratically dominated congress when needed. Education is not so lucky and as evidenced by your own rhetoric. Give them fish, or teach them to be fishermen, I don't see it as distinctly black and white, how about we teach fishing and then if we need to throw some fish in the pot along the way that isn't such a big task.

T. Shaitanaku

To start with, any honest discussion of food stamps recognizes that they simply don't provide enough food--all those elected officials and reporters who try to live on food stamps for a week learn this rather quickly.

You know, I don't think they do. Otherwise the maximum food stamp benefit might be a tad more than $200, $367 and $668 for a family size of 1, 2, and 4 respectively. They might also have noticed that the purchasing power of food stamps has been declining since 1996 when the standard deduction used to calculate food stamp benefits was frozen. Now, the 2002 farm bill helped ameliorate the effects of the 1996 welfare bill for families of four or more but for smaller families the standard deduction still bottoms out at the 1996 level.

So, they legislators and reporters might try the food stamp diet for a few days and then say how tough it was, but if they really learned their lesson they might actually consider updating the formulas by which food stamp benefits are calculated.

"We were told we have to offset every damn dime of [new teacher spending]."

There is the rot. This is no time to be penny wise.