Emboldened by their victories in the last election, Assembly Republicans are planning for an ambitious agenda this legislative term. Included in this ambitious agenda is a plan to limit purchases of junk food for people who receive state benefits. Although one can understand the motivation for such a plan, legislation to bring that plan into fruition, including implementation of that legislation, would prove impractical. Furthermore, this proposal evinces the hypocrisy of Wisconsin Republicans.
The mantra of the modern Republican Party should be familiar to all of us by now: Less government is better government. As Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, succinctly stated in the context of the new legislative session, “I hope that we’ll be able to stick with our small government principles, which say that government should be helpful, but in the smallest way possible and for the shortest time that’s possible.” The GOP platform is premised on a libertarian fantasy: the idea that if government would just get out of people’s way — and business’ way — things would be better. Assembly Republicans continue to embrace this idea, especially in the aftermath of the 2014 elections.
As state Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, said, “Government does not create jobs. However, government can get out of the way of businesses trying to create jobs.” Many Assembly Republicans contend that while less government regulation and taxation of business is necessary, more needs to be done — namely, a reduction in the size of state government. As state Rep. David Craig, R-Big Bend, said, “We must work as a Legislature to do the important work of actually reducing government, not just restricting its growth.”
When it comes to the wealthiest individuals and business corporations in the state, Republicans practice what they preach. Yet when it comes to individuals with little wealth, Republicans talk the talk but forget to walk the walk. Contrary to their generic small government and libertarian rhetoric, Assembly Republicans are pushing for more regulations—not less—in what recipients of government food stamps can purchase.
Republicans would like to enact legislation limiting how much junk food Wisconsin food stamp recipients could purchase with their benefits this legislative session. Last legislative session, the Assembly passed a bill which would have limited a food stamp recipient’s monthly expenditure on unhealthy food to one-third of the recipient’s monetary allotment, but the bill ultimately failed to make it to the Senate floor. Even if the bill had passed the Senate, the USDA probably would have prevented it from being implemented, as it has done with efforts like this in other states.
I don’t think anyone would argue with the proposition that eating healthy is important. Yet I don’t think Assembly Republicans are particularly concerned with the health of food stamp recipients in pushing for this legislation. Rather, they are mainly concerned with “protecting” taxpayer funds.
Instead of pushing for this legislation, Assembly Republicans could better use their time and try to fix the root of the problem: poverty. If there was less poverty, there would be less government expenditures on food stamps in general. A higher minimum wage, more taxation of wealthy individuals and corporations, government-funded universal health care and tuition-free higher education would go a long way in reducing poverty, and thus reduce government expenditures on food stamps, meaning taxpayer funds are “protected.” The last time I checked, the Republican Party opposes all of these measures.
The GOP implements its small government rhetoric when it comes to wealthy individuals and business corporations, but when the economic well-being of individuals with little wealth are involved, it’s another story. The Assembly Republicans’ plan to limit purchases of junk food for people receiving food benefits reveals the GOP’s deep-seated cognitive dissonance.
Aaron Loudenslager ([email protected]) is a third year law student.