WASHINGTON -- House Republicans have temporarily blocked the $4.5 billion legislation that would expand eligibility for national school lunch programs and establish baseline nutrition standards.
Arguing that the nutrition package is too expensive and an example of government overreach, the GOP sought to amend the bill using a procedural maneuver -- seeking to tack on a provision that would require background checks for childcare workers -- thereby delaying final passage.
"Everyone recognizes the importance of extending child nutrition programs, but extending these programs does not mean expanding them," said Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee. "We could expand these programs and improve them with no added costs to taxpayers."
Democrats countered that Republicans are merely attempting to derail the bill.
"It is disappointing that Republicans decided to pull a political stunt to delay passage of this bill at the expense of the deserving children who need healthy meals," said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.
House Democrats opted to push the final vote back to Thursday and bring up the Republican amendment as a standalone bill, rather than vote on the amendment's incorporation into the broader legislation Wednesday.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act would provide 20 million additional after-school meals every year to U.S. schoolchildren, and raise the reimbursement rate by 6 cents per lunch for any school adhering to the new standards. The current federal reimbursement for a school lunch provided at no cost to the student is $2.72. The additional funding is primarily aimed at lunch programs in public schools, but nonprofit private schools may also be eligible if they meet comparable safety and year-round operational standards.
If passed, the bill would mark the first time since 1973 that Congress has increased funding for school lunch programs, aside from adjustments for inflation.
Hear Kline's critique of the legislation below:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has called passing the nutrition bill "the right, moral thing for us to do," arguing that hunger impedes education and thus the nation's future "competitiveness."
But the legislation only recently received widespread support among the more liberal Democrats due to concerns that food stamp funds would be cut to pay for it.
In August, more than 100 House Democrats signed a letter in protest of a Senate-approved version of the bill which offset costs by cutting future funding for food stamps. "This is one of the more egregious cases of robbing Peter to pay Paul," they wrote.
The White House has promised to find other vehicles with which fund the food stamp program before any cuts take effect. After meeting with the president on Tuesday, many liberal Democrats were persuaded to support the bill after all.
"The administration will work with the Congress to restore those funds," Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) told reporters after the meeting. "We look forward to passing this legislation with those assurances in mind."