Washington. -- Newt Gingrich's and the GOP's "Contract With America" has hit a speed bump bigger than a month-old bagel when it comes to plans to wipe out the federal food-stamp program.
It is not that the 27 million poor people who eat off this $23-billion-a-year program have yet staged a violent revolution; it is that the farmers, supermarket chains, bakers and bottlers of soda pop have cried "Foul!" They want no part of a scheme to abolish the food-stamp and other nutrition programs and fight hunger by substituting block grants to states.
The farmers and merchants whose economic well-being depends on sales of bread, milk, butter, cheese, pork chops and popsicles to needy families using food stamps don't trust the states.
They know that before the federal government intervened against widespread hunger in America, many state officials didn't give a damn how many of their children -- especially minority children -- suffered brain damage, rickets, scurvy and the many other diseases of malnutrition.
Some troglodyte state officials even refused to institute school-lunch programs!
The expectation in the food industry is that state officials will rip off block grants for whatever reasons enhance them politically, leaving the poor more miserable, and driving some currently comfortable farmer-merchant families into their brand of poverty.
So a revolt of affluent beneficiaries has caused the GOP to switch to a scheme to cut the food-stamp program by about $3 billion a year -- or $16 billion over five years -- this at a time when food prices are expected to rise substantially.
This "contract" will not be acceptable either. But efforts to force it through will provoke more social conflict and hatred in America. That is because GOP leaders, in their frustration, will try to convince Americans that all they want to do is wipe A zillion 'consultants' are eating at the public trough, but the tendency is to root out only the programs designed to help the most miserable people in the land.
out "fraud," which some hate-the-poor demagogues "estimate" at $3 billion a year in the food-stamp program alone.
Political efforts to destroy the food-stamp program because of fraud raises the question why Americans are always harder on a poor person who steals bread than on a rich person who steals big bucks. The "welfare queens," most of them mythical, have not ripped off the food programs a thousandth as much as the "respectable" grocers who illegally pay some drug-desperate soul $5 or $10 for a $20 food stamp.
Put the grocer in jail, prosecute other thieves, but do not endanger the health of millions of children, pregnant women and others by making America again a land of shameful hunger.
Willie Sutton has told us that robbers and thieves go where the money is. Put $23 billion on the table for food stamps and you draw crooks. The same is true for Medicare, Medicaid, the Defense Department, NASA, the CIA and price-support programs for farmers.
A zillion "consultants" are eating at the public trough, but the tendency is to root out only the programs designed to help the most miserable people in the land.
Millions of Americans have been brainwashed into believing that "welfare" destroys character and breeds chiselers more than greedy "capitalism" inspires conscienceless crooks.
So the "Contract With America" is supposed to provoke us to get angrier over a hundred-dollar food-stamp fraud than over a million-dollar corporate theft.
The food-stamp developments show that the American people are reading more of the "fine print" in Mr. Gingrich's "Contract" than he and his allies think.
Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.