Congress scours budget to pay for nutrition bill
EQIP money still on hot seat in Senate version
By JERRY HAGSTROM
For the Capital Press
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- House, Senate and White House officials are working together to find the money for the child nutrition programs before they expire on Sept. 30, a House Democratic leadership aide said after the House Education and Labor Committee approved the bill on July 15.
But significant hurdles remain if Congress is to meet that deadline.
"The leadership supports this bill going forward; we are working with the White House and the Senate to find a way to pay for it," the aide said in an e-mail after the committee approved the measure by a bipartisan vote of 32-13.
First lady Michelle Obama praised the committee for its bipartisan passage of the measure and said President Barack Obama looks forward to signing the bill this year.
The child nutrition programs, which include school meals, the special nutrition program for low income women, infants and children known as WIC and other smaller institutional feeding programs, are popular.
The first lady's anti-obesity campaign has created momentum for improving school meals. The major provisions of the House committee-approved bill and a bill approved earlier this year by the Senate Agriculture Committee are similar.
However, the Senate bill would increase spending by only $4.5 billion over 10 years with offsets coming from a food stamp education program and a cut in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, a conservation program run by USDA.
The House bill would increase spending by $8 billion over 10 years, but it does not say where the money would come from.
Obama had proposed a $10 billion increase over 10 years for child nutrition.
Conservation groups oppose a cut in EQIP to pay for the nutrition programs.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has made child nutrition a priority, has said, however, that he is willing to search USDA's budget, including the conservation programs, for money that the administration would be willing to shift to nutrition.
House Education and Labor Committee ranking member John Kline, R-Minn., repeatedly said during the mark-up that he fears the deficit will be increased to pay for more expensive food items in the bill, but House Education and Labor Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., said the cost would be offset.
Democrats rejected a Republican proposal that would not have included the new programs.
The House bill also includes more summer and after-school meals and pilot projects than the Senate bill. It also includes some amendments that could prove controversial, including those to buy frozen as well as fresh fruits and vegetables and pilot programs to try organic and plant-based school lunch menus.
The amendment passed on a voice vote and no one asked for a roll call.