Reagan's Revolution Devolves Into a Food-Stamp Skirmish

Roundup: Historians' Take
tags: food stamps

Stephen Mihm, an associate professor of history at the University of Georgia, is a contributor to the Ticker. Follow him on Twitter.

Last week, Republicans in the House of Representatives delivered on their threat to reduce funding for food stamps. In a narrow 217-210 vote -- every Democrat voted against the measure, as did 15 Republicans -- the House moved to cut $39 billion from the program over the next decade.

The clash over food stamps may seem like minor political posturing, but the vote could be far more momentous than Republicans -- and perhaps Democrats -- understand. The two parties are unwittingly re-fighting a battle of many years ago. The distance between then and now suggests that the conservative revolution inaugurated by President Ronald Reagan may have reached a crossroads.

This earlier battle over food stamps was joined in January 1981. Reagan had decisively defeated Jimmy Carter two months earlier, and the Senate was in Republican hands for the first time in 28 years. Reagan, who had made “welfare queens” an epithet, and food stamps a symbol of the ills of big government, immediately targeted the program for steep cuts: $1.8 billion, or 16 percent....

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