Pelosi in a Pickle

Pelosi in a Pickle

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Plus, the largest increase ever for food stamps
Monday, August 16, 2021
 

President Biden told the nation Monday that he stands squarely behind his decision to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan even after the Taliban retook control of Kabul and the Afghan government quickly collapsed.

“American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves. We spent over a trillion dollars. We trained and equipped an Afghan military force of some 300,000 strong -- incredibly well equipped -- a force larger in size than the militaries of many of our NATO allies,” Biden said, adding, “Our true strategic competitors, China and Russia, would love nothing more than the United States to continue to funnel billions of dollars in resources and attention into stabilizing Afghanistan indefinitely.”

While the chaotic departure from Afghanistan will dominate the news today, here’s what you need to know about fiuscal developments:

Pelosi Compromise on Budget, Infrastructure Falls Flat With Moderates

Nancy Pelosi is in a predicament. She’s being squeezed on one side by moderate Democrats pressing for a quick stand-alone vote on the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and on the other side by progressives who insist they’ll only vote for that legislation if it’s accompanied by a larger reconciliation package focused on social, health care and environmental programs.

Pelosi on Sunday proposed a way out of the intraparty standoff. In a “Dear Colleague” letter to fellow Democrats, Pelosi said she had asked the House Rules Committee to “explore the possibility of a rule that advances both the budget resolution and the bipartisan infrastructure package.” That compromise wouldn’t alter Pelosi’s long-standing strategy of keeping the infrastructure bill on hold until the Senate passes the reconciliation package, but it would set up a procedural vote on the infrastructure bill and link the two tracks Democrats have been pursuing.

Pelosi’s compromise proposal fell flat with moderates. The nine Democrats who last week threatened to withhold their support for the budget blueprint unless the House first votes on the infrastructure bill released their own letter Sunday night rejecting Pelosi’s compromise. “While we appreciate the forward procedural movement on the bipartisan infrastructure agreement, our view remains consistent: We should vote first on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework without delay and then move to immediate consideration of the budget resolution,” they said. “We simply cannot afford any delays.”

The bottom line: Democrats’ intraparty divide hasn’t closed. House Democrats reportedly have a call scheduled for Tuesday at noon to try to address their differences. Pelosi is still aiming to pass the budget resolution next week, but she can’t afford to lose more than three votes from her members given that Republicans are expected to stay united in opposition to the $3.5 trillion budget framework.

The Terrible Toll of the War in Afghanistan

The tragedy of the war in Afghanistan can’t be measured in mere numbers, but the data gathered by Ellen Knickmeyer of the Associated Press and others help provide some context to the events unfolding in the war-torn country.

Some key data points:

* U.S. soldiers killed (as of April 2021): 2,448
* U.S. contractors killed: 3,846
* Afghan soldiers killed: 66,000
* Afghan civilians killed: 47,245
* Taliban and other government opponents killed: 51,191

* Cost of training the Afghan military (as of 2019): $87 billion
* Cost of reconstruction and economic development: more than $54 billion
* Cost of counter-narcotics efforts: $10 billion

* Estimated direct cost of the war: $2.2 trillion, including roughly $1 trillion for the Pentagon and State Department, $440 billion for off-budget military spending, $240 billion for veterans care and $455 billion in interest costs.
* Estimated cost of the war in the long run, including health care for veterans: up to $6.5 trillion
* Number of votes in Congress to declare war in Afghanistan: 0
* Number of tax increases in the U.S. to help cover the cost of the war: 0.

Largest Increase Ever for Food Stamp Program

The Biden administration has approved the largest permanent increase in food assistance benefits on record.

Starting in October, average benefits in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will increase by about 27% relative to pre-pandemic levels. The move will affect all 42 million people currently participating in SNAP, the federal food aid program often referred to as food stamps.

The average monthly benefit per person will rise by $36, up from the current average of $121, a White House official told Bloomberg News. The benefit increase, which does not require approval from Congress, will raise the annual cost of the program by $20 billion. The food assistance program cost $60 billion in 2019, jumping to $79 billion in 2020 in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

What’s changing: The increase is the result of a change in the way the U.S Department of Agriculture calculates the cost of a basic diet in the U.S. The USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan tracks the cost of 58 food categories that compose a “practical, nutritious, budget-conscious diet” for a family of four, including two children between the ages of 6 and 11. The USDA is updating the algorithm that determines the estimated cost of that diet, the least expensive of four meal plans monitored by the department.

Why it’s changing: Anti-hunger advocates have long argued that the food assistance program is based on inaccurate assumptions about the cost of food. Among other issues, the program ignores geographical differences in the cost of food, is based on outdated nutritional models and makes unrealistic assumptions about the time recipients are willing and able to dedicate to preparing their meals. The program also ignores the different nutritional and caloric needs of younger children and teenagers.

What the changes mean: The federal government has increased food benefits in the past during times of economic crisis, but those increases have been temporary. Critics say that during non-crisis periods, the benefits are too small to keep households fully nourished, with the majority of recipients exhausting their monthly allotment in just two weeks.

More broadly, the increase is part of the Biden administration’s effort to strengthen the nation’s social safety net.

“Plain and simple, this is totally a game-changing moment,” Jamie Bussel of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation told The Washington Post. “The changes have enormous potential to reduce, and potentially eliminate, child hunger and poverty in this country.”

Not everyone is celebrating the change, however. Republicans have sought to cut the food assistance program in recent years, and in a pushback against the new rule changes, Rep. Glenn Thompson (PA), the top Republican on the House Committee on Agriculture, and Sen. John Boozman (AR), the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office asking it to look into the USDA’s decision-making process.

Send your feedback to yrosenberg@thefiscaltimes.com. Follow us on Twitter: @yuvalrosenberg, @mdrainey and @TheFiscalTimes. And please tell your friends they can sign up here for their own copy of this newsletter.

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