Flunking Food and Hunger in Congress

Someone I know - let's call him Al - got a few grades during his otherwise successful college career that weren't much to write home about. In fact, if memory serves, Al didn't.

Someone I know - let's call him Al - got a few grades during his otherwise successful college career that weren't much to write home about. In fact, if memory serves, Al didn't.

Right now, there's a whole group of people who - though their school days, like Al's, are far behind them - have just gotten the kind of miserable report cards usually earned by students who spend their days tapping kegs instead of cracking books.

Twenty-eight members of the House of Representatives and 10 in the Senate got a grade of zero out of 100 from the watchdog group Food Policy Action because they voted against farm bill amendments to improve how our food is grown, help millions of hungry Americans feed themselves, reform out-of-control farm subsidies and protect the environment from farming practices that foul air, land and water - and that's just for starters.

The 28 in the House joined 147 of their colleagues in voting for an amendment that would literally take food from the mouths of babes. That measure would cut $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, which roughly 50 million Americans, 45 percent of them children, depend on.

Their war against the nation's hungry marched on in the House as the Zeros supported four other amendments that would further restrict struggling families' access to healthy food.

They also opposed an amendment, sponsored by Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, to restore $20 billion of the $40 billion in cuts to SNAP. It went down to defeat with the help of the Zeros, who all voted against it, of course.

Over in the upper chamber, the 10 Senate Zeros, along with 30 of their colleagues, voted to cut $13 billon from the same vital nutrition program.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the constituents of the Senate Zeros include 150,200 of the roughly 900,000 veterans who live in households that rely on SNAP. Many of those former soldiers likely served several tours in Iraq, Afghanistan or both.

So it's worth remembering that a number of the 40 Republicans who voted for the SNAP cuts were in the Senate back in 2002 and voted to send these veterans to war. Voting to deny them and their families relatively meager but much-needed food assistance is one way to thank them for their service, I suppose.

The House Zeros also voted against measures to allow more farmers to participate in important conservation programs that help reduce pesticide and fertilizer run-off into drinking water sources, and against amendments to cap farm subsidy payments that disproportionately go to well-off mega farms - not small family farmers.

Several House members who voted against limiting taxpayer-funded farm subsidies are themselves recipients of government farm subsidy checks, including Rep. Marlin Stuzman (R-Ind), Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) and Rep. Stephen Fincher, a Republican from Frog Jump, Tennessee. Rep. Fincher, who has reaped more than $3 million in subsidies since 1999, actually invoked scripture while defending his desire to cut billions from SNAP during a hearing of the House Agriculture Committee earlier this year, using a misleading, out-of-context quote from the Book of Thessalonians: "The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP, estimates that at least 30 percent of households that receive food assistance also draw income from a job. In the Congressional district Fincher represents, there are more than 50,000 households receiving SNAP benefits, and nearly half have at least one person working.

The Zeros in both chambers also voted against farm bill amendments that would have reined in taxpayer-funded crop insurance subsidies for wealthy farmers. USDA doesn't make public the names of individuals who receive crop insurance subsidies as it does for traditional farm subsidies, so one can only wonder if Reps. Fincher, Stuzman and Hartzler have their hands in that federal cash register, too.

The Senate members of this congressional clique also voted against an amendment to the farm bill that would require labeling of foods made with genetically engineered ingredients, thereby denying their constituents the right to know what's in their food - even though all national surveys show near-unanimous support among the public for labeling of GE foods.

While my friend Al received a couple of grades he wished he hadn't, his career as a student only had consequences for himself. The lives of his family, friends and fellow students were not affected in the least by his academic lapses. That's not the case with members of Congress, however. The votes they cast and bills they pass have a profound bearing on the lives of millions of people, including the one-sixth of the population who regularly find themselves hungry.

That's food for thought while we wait for Food Policy Action's scorecard for the second session of the 113th Congress, due out in late 2014.

Here are the Zeros of the first session of the 113th Congress:

From the Senate:

Sen. John Thune (Republican from South Dakota)

Sen. Richard Shelby (Republican from Alabama - voted YES on Iraq War Resolution)

Sen. Mitch McConnell (Minority Leader and Republican from Kentucky - voted YES on Iraq War Resolution)

Sen. Dean Heller (Republican from Nevada)

Sen. Mike Crapo (Republican from Idaho - voted YES on Iraq War Resolution)

Sen. James Inhofe (Republican from Oklahoma - voted YES on Iraq War Resolution)

Sen. James Risch (Republican from Idaho)

Sen. Jeff Flake (Republican from Arizona)

Sen. Mike Enzi (Republican from Wyoming - voted YES on Iraq War Resolution)

Sen. John Barrasso (Republican from Wyoming)

From the House:

Rep. Martha Roby (Republican from Alabama)

Rep. Scott DesJarlias (Republican from Tennessee)

Rep. John Fleming (Republican from Louisiana)

Rep. Stephen Fincher (Republican from Tennessee)

Rep. Ann Wagner (Republican from Missouri)

Rep. Kay Granger (Republican from Texas)

Rep. Robert Aderholt (Republican from Alabama)

Rep. Ted Poe (Republican from Texas)

Rep. Roger Williams (Republican from Texas)

Rep. Tom Cotton (Republican from Arkansas)

Rep. Mac Thornberry (Republican from Texas)

Rep. Marlin Stutzman (Republican from Indiana)

Rep. John Boehner (Speaker of the House and a Republican from Ohio)

Rep. John Campbell III (Republican from California)

Rep. Cory Gardner (Republican from Colorado)

Rep. Bob Latta (Republican from Ohio)

Rep. Larry Bucshon (Republican from Indiana)

Rep. Lynn Jenkins (Republican from Kansas)

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (Republican from Missouri)

Rep. Billy Long (Republican from Missouri)

Rep. Jason Smith (Republican from Missouri)

Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (Republican from Missouri)

Rep. Randy Neugbauer (Republican from Texas)

Rep. Alan Nunnelee (Republican from Mississippi)

Rep. Bill Johnson (Republican from Ohio)

Rep. Adrian Smith (Republican from Nebraska)

Rep. Bill Shuster (Republican from Pennsylvania)

Rep. Blake Farenthold (Republican from Texas)