Tuesday, January 05, 2016

What would it look like if Republicans and Democrats worked together to reduce U.S. hunger?

What would federal policy look like if Republicans and Democrats worked together to reduce U.S. hunger?

It would probably look like this new report released yesterday by the bipartisan National Commission on Hunger.

Key features of a bipartisan approach:
  • The membership really would be bipartisan. The commission included leading people nominated by the GOP-controlled House (3 Republicans and 2 Democrats) and the Democrat-led Senate (3 Democrats and 2 Republicans). The co-leaders included Mariana Chilton (a professor at Drexel University and director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities) and Robert Doar (a Fellow in Poverty Studies at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute).
  • The diagnosis of the causes of hunger would include comparatively Republican themes (labor markets and broken marriages) and Democratic themes (injustice and lack of program access).
  • The recommendations would honor the positive contribution of major nutrition assistance programs, while suggesting new measures to increase their healthfulness (including both incentives and -- notably -- a modest sugar sweetened beverage limitation) and their support for employment effort.
Current anti-hunger policy is characterized by a massive gulf between program critics (treating legitimate anti-hunger functions as equivalent to government waste) and program supporters (treating even small proposed program changes as a matter of life-and-death). Clearly, this commission report is not written quite as a committed anti-hunger advocate would choose. Yet, I much prefer the anti-hunger strategy proposed by this commission to the current state of debate in this country.


Anonymous said...

From a cerebral policy-making perspective, I suppose the highly brokered consensus found in this report must appear preferable to the sharply divided public debate in D.C.

But policy changes must pass through politics to become law, and D.C. politics is a winner-take-all affair. Why treaty with the other side when there is no political advantage? The lessons of 1990s welfare reform are still very relevant to this debate. I don't see anything good resulting from this report.

Anonymous said...

Also, no one has yet explained to me how policy changes claiming to increase the healthfulness of SNAP would have any effect on very low food security, which was the Commission's only, and self-defined charge.

Parke Wilde said...

Anonymous asks: why treaty with the other side when there is no political advantage?

Taking the question seriously, the answer would be: because doing so puts anti-hunger programs on a more solid footing and thereby protects more people from hunger.

But perhaps the question was just rhetorical. One sometimes meets members of a generation of anti-hunger leaders that came to Washington focused on addressing poverty and hunger, drifted into adopting partisan tactics for occasional battles, and over time found themselves so acculturated to that game that they literally cannot remember why somebody would talk to the other side if there is no political advantage.