September 28th, 2010
04:32 PM ET
12 years ago

House Democrats battle White House over child nutrition

Washington (CNN) - One of first lady Michelle Obama's top priorities - promoting child nutrition and combating obesity - is running into a major roadblock in the House of Representatives.

But, in an unusual twist, the opposition is not coming from Republicans. It's coming from liberal Democrats.

A key bloc of House Democrats is threatening to vote against a Senate-passed child nutrition bill because it pays for the new initiatives in part by taking $2.2 billion slated for food stamps.

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts, predicted the Democratic votes aren't there to pass the bill before the House leaves later this week, unless the White House gives strong assurances to House Democrats it will replenish the money for the food stamp program.

"We're not going to tolerate robbing the poor to pay for every piece of legislation," McGovern told CNN Tuesday.

If the House doesn't pass the measure before September 30 - the end of the fiscal year - existing nutrition programs will get a short-term funding extension in another bill that Congress is expected to pass this week before members leave to campaign. But the new programs pushed by the first lady will have to wait until after the election, when the House is likely to take up the bill in a lame duck session.

An aide to the first lady tells CNN that Mrs. Obama has been personally making phone calls to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House leaders, and her staff has pressed the issue in regular meetings on the issue.

The aide would not say exactly how many calls the first lady has made.

The first lady publicly called on the House to pass the Senate bill in a recent speech in New Orleans, and also pressed the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus in separate remarks to both groups this month.

While praising the first lady's focus on the issue, McGovern slammed Senate Democrats for using money from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program (SNAP) to pay for the $4.5 billion nutrition bill. House liberals support the programs in the Senate bill, but many of them feel burned after reluctantly voting this summer to take significant money from the food stamp program to pay for legislation that sent money to cash-strapped states to avoid teacher layoffs.

"The SNAP program shouldn't be an ATM," McGovern said. He and another 105 House Democrats sent a letter to Pelosi last month criticizing the Senate's bill, arguing that "this is one of the more egregious cases of robbing Peter to pay Paul, and is a vote we do not take lightly."

A frustrated McGovern noted that members of his own party in the Senate came up with the mechanism to pay for the bill in an effort to push it forward. "I think there's a calculation over in the Senate that robbing from poor people has no political consequences," he said.

Congress has not updated school lunch programs in five years. The new reauthorization bill includes many items that the first lady has championed as part of her "Let's move" initiative to combat child obesity. Among other things, it provides more money to poor areas to subsidize free meals and requires nutrition programs to include healthier foods.

To help offset the higher cost of including more fruits and vegetables, the bill increases the reimbursement rate for school lunches.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, included the child nutrition bill on a list of bills the Senate has passed and that the House could vote on this week. But senior House Democratic leadership aides say no decision has been made yet on whether the House will try to act before it leaves for the midterm election later this week.

McGovern insists the fix is easy if the administration pledges to pay back the funds used in the Senate bill. He said leaders are still discussing the matter with the White House, saying that "it's in their court right now."

- CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash contributed to this report

Filed under: Michelle Obama
soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. stufit

    That is taking money from one libertard folly to give it to another. Let the dopers get jobs and pay for their own food. It is like that teachers union in Milwaukee wanting the public to pay for their Viagara, because they have an inflated and unreasonable contract.

    September 28, 2010 08:57 pm at 8:57 pm |
  2. Kate

    This woman is just as stupid as her husband. The country isn't broke enough now we have to have a special crusine for the students? Really? What about the starving children who are living on the streets because your goofy husband fixed the banks so well they are taking homes out from under families.

    September 28, 2010 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  3. Hugo

    You just gotta love it, I mean you can't write this stuff to be any of a better fit for the Libtard mind set. That is the exact same flawed reasoning why Obama can't figure out the economics of extending the tax cuts and offsetting the loss of revenue by cutting Government spending.

    September 28, 2010 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  4. Jeff

    Kate you are really retarded without saving banks the employement would double and there isn't anything wrong with looking to have better food for kids that is why are unhealthy and fat and spend 2 much in hospital so stop hating obama is doing the best he can you stupid GOP messed it up the first places

    September 28, 2010 09:27 pm at 9:27 pm |
  5. James in Columbia MO

    I have to go with the House on this one. Sorry Michelle, your idea is a decent one, but if people die of starvation they won't be able to make better eating choices...

    September 28, 2010 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  6. David

    I think you could take $2 billion from food stamps without taking food from poor people. Just only allow food stamps to be used for good nutrious food, but not for steaks, or cookies, chips, sodas etc etc, that I can't afford. It is annoying to say the least to be in line behind a well dressed person buying high priced food that I can't afford, and then to follow them out to their late model Cadillac, that I can't afford. My wife and I spend less than $100 a week on food, well under $100, and that includes paper goods, soap etc etc. Yet I see one person spend $200 or more using food stamps. I object to paying for food that I can't afford to buy. I have no problem with feeding poor people but what is wrong with only allowing food stamps to be used for food. Not treats, not expensive foods, not high priced cookies and cakes. Why can't there be a mark on the items price tag on the shelf that identifies it as a Food Stamp item? This way the money could easily be taken from the food stamp program to properly feed our school children. This way we can also be assured that the children will get good food – and not be fed chips and junk food. Or even miss food altogether if the stamps are sold for money used for drugs and alcohol, which I have heard happens!!

    September 28, 2010 10:51 pm at 10:51 pm |
  7. Sonnie

    We already have food for kids in school and out of school in the summer breaks. Is it not the parents responsibility to feed there own as my Mom and Dad did or is it the TAX PAYERS??
    If it is the tax payers Mom & Dad have some moneyt coming as they should be compensated for feeding me????????
    Any way Mrs Obama would do better to stay out of the limelight as hubby has his plate full and would like not to have
    her as a thorn in the side

    September 28, 2010 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |