The first non-inflationary increase for school lunches in 36 years has passed through Congress and is on the way to President Barack Obama's desk to be signed. May we suggest having the signing ceremony outside the White House organic garden?
The House vote was 264-157; the Senate approved the bill by unanimous consent in August.
Yeah, there are a few negatives, such as the reduced increase thanks to conservative Senate Democrats such as Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and about half of the $4.5 billion (over 10 years) is funded by a cut in food stamps.
Though inflation did account for every increase over the last 36 years, the true value of the meals has slipped since inflation wasn't enough to cover food costs (inflation numbers aren't affected by food costs). And 6¢ won't help much; "thanks" Sen. Lincoln.
But there are no "blue slips" involved — unlike the food safety bill. And this bill had to pass now, since the legislation had no chance in the next Congress.
President Obama tried to reassure Dems in Congress that he would try and recover the food stamps money, though, again, doing so in the next two years will be difficult.
If you are looking for a reason why 36 years have gone by without a non-inflationary increase, and why getting even a 6¢ increase was so difficult, let's hear from Congressman (and amazingly physician) Paul Broun (R-GA):
This bill is not about child nutrition. It's not about healthy kids. It's about an expansion of the federal government, more and more control from Washington, borrowing more money and putting our children in greater debt. The federal government has no business setting nutritional standards and telling families what they should and should not eat.
This is from the same Congressman who had this pearl of wisdom in September:
I tell ya, we’ve got some new problems in Washington. Big problems. Just today, Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta said people in America are not eating enough fruits and vegetables. They want to give all the power of the federal government to force you to eat more fruits and vegetables. This is what the federal, CDC, they gonna be calling you to find out what fruits and vegetables you eat today. This is socialism of the highest order!
This would be tragic if there was the slightest bit of truth to his statement. There isn't; since he's a Congressman and a doctor, some people understandably will assume he is correct.
Blanche Lincoln — who lost her bid for re-election — and Paul Broun may not represent most of our society. But during this process, they held positions of power over this issue. In the government, $4.5 billion, especially spread over 10 years, is a drop in the giant budget bucket. And while there is a bill — finally — this is why the bill is as weak as it is, though a great improvement from the long-term status quo.
17 Republicans crossed the aisle to vote for the school lunch bill along with 247 Democratic votes. Four Democratic House members voted against the bill along with 153 Republicans. 13 House members did not vote with one vacant House seat.
Of the 17 GOP members that voted for the bill, 4 of them are from Pennsylvania: Charlie Dent, Jim Gerlach, Tim Murphy, and Todd Platts. The other Republicans were Spencer Bachus (AL), Joseph Cao (LA), Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Mike Castle (DE), Charles Djou (HI), Vern Ehlers (MI), Ann Emerson (MO), Jeff Fortenberry (NE), Walter Jones (NC), Tom Latham (IA), Steve LaTourette (OH), Dave Reichert (WA), and Don Young (AK).
Allen Boyd (D-FL), Bart Stupak (D-MI), John Tanner (D-TN), and Peter Welch (D-VT) were the 4 Dems who voted no. Boyd, Stupak, and Tanner are all conservative and all leaving Congress in January. Boyd was defeated and Stupak (C Street) and Tanner retired. Welch's vote is a bit of a surprise.