WASHINGTON -- In September, Rep. Trey Radel voted for Republican legislation that would allow states to make food stamp recipients pee in cups to prove they're not on drugs. In October, police busted the Florida Republican on a charge of cocaine possession.
“It’s really interesting it came on the heels of Republicans voting on everyone who had access to food stamps get drug tested," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told BuzzFeed Tuesday. "It’s like, what?”
The House over the summer approved an amendment by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) that would let states drug test people on food stamps. The amendment passed by voice vote, meaning members' individual yeas and nays were not recorded. Radel later voted in favor of a broader food stamps bill that included Hudson's measure.
In support of his drug testing legislation, Hudson cited the many state legislatures around the country that had considered similar requirements for other means-tested programs in recent years.
"This is a clear and obvious problem in our communities as nearly 30 states have introduced legislation to drug test for welfare programs," Hudson said. "We have a moral obligation to equip the states with the tools they need to discourage the use of illegal drugs."
Most of the state legislation was authored by Republicans. Oftentimes, state Democrats responded by suggesting lawmakers should be subject to tests as well. If the government's going to make sure recipients of taxpayer-funded benefits are clean, the argument went, then why not also make sure the recipients of taxpayer salaries are clean, too?
In June, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) made that very suggestion when he questioned why recipients of crop insurance and other government benefits weren't also targeted for drug tests like people on food stamps.
"Why don't we drug test all the members of Congress here," McGovern said shortly before the drug-testing measure passed. "Force everybody to go urinate in a cup or see whether or not anybody is on drugs? Maybe that will explain why some of these amendments are coming up or why some of the votes are turning out the way they are."
The fate of the food stamp drug testing provision is in the hands of a House-Senate conference committee hashing out differences between food stamp and farm legislation that passed the two chambers. It's got a chance. Last year, Congress passed a law to let states drug-test some unemployment insurance recipients.
Radel apologized Tuesday for his cocaine bust and said he'd seek treatment.
"I struggle with the disease of alcoholism, and this led to an extremely irresponsible choice," he said.
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