By Mary Clare Jalonick
House Republicans have temporarily blocked legislation to feed school meals to thousands more hungry children.
Republicans used a procedural maneuver Wednesday to try to amend the $4.5 billion bill, which would give more needy children the opportunity to eat free lunches at school and make those lunches healthier. First lady Michelle Obama has lobbied for the bill as part of her “Let’s Move” campaign to combat childhood obesity.
House Democrats said the GOP amendment, which would have required background checks for child care workers, was an effort to kill the bill and delayed a final vote on the legislation rather than vote on the amendment.
Because the nutrition bill is identical to legislation passed by the Senate in August, passage would send it to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature. If the bill were amended, it would be sent back to the Senate with little time left in the legislative session.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. said the House would hold separate votes on Thursday on the amendment and the bill.
Republicans say the nutrition bill is too costly and an example of government overreach.
“It’s not about making our children healthy and active,” said Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee. “We all want to see our children healthy and active. This is about spending and the role of government and the size of government — a debate about whether we’re listening to our constituents or not.”
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has also taken a swipe at the first lady’s campaign, bringing cookies to a speech at a Pennsylvania school last month and calling the campaign a “school cookie ban debate” and “nanny state run amok” on her Twitter feed.
The legislation would give the government the power to decide what kinds of foods could be sold and what ingredients may be limited in school lunch lines and vending machines.
The Agriculture Department would create the standards, which would likely keep popular foods like hamburgers and pizza in school cafeterias but make them healthier, using leaner meat or whole wheat crust, for example. Vending machines could be stocked with less candy and fewer high-calorie drinks.
The bill would provide money to serve more than 20 million additional after-school meals annually to children in all 50 states. Many of those children now only receive after-school snacks. It would also increase the number of children eligible for school meals programs by at least 115,000, using Medicaid and census data to identify them.
The legislation would increase the amount of money schools are reimbursed by 6 cents a meal, a priority for schools that say they don’t have the dollars to feed needy kids.