In Fiddler on the Roof, when Tevye muses on what it would be like to be wealthy and not have to struggle to support his family, he famously reaches up to the heavens and implores: "Would it spoil some vast eternal plan, if..."
The same might be asked of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on behalf of hungry children in the U.S. They are Congressional supreme beings, especially when it comes to scheduling legislation, and their only explanation for not bringing the critical Child Nutrition Reauthorization to the floor of each chamber is the confounding excuse that it may not fit neatly into the complex legislative juggling act they envision in the last few weeks before Congress adjourns for the November elections.
At just the time when record numbers of children in the U.S. are struggling with hunger, with one in four children on food stamps for the first time in the history of the U.S., the critical child nutrition programs like school lunch, school breakfast and summer feeding are set to expire on September 30. There is no valid excuse for allowing that to happen. The Senate Agriculture Committee and the House Education and Labor Committee have both reported out reauthorizing legislation by large margins and with bipartisan support. They would likely be passed by comfortable majorities on the House and Senate floor, but no such action has been scheduled. It is as if it might "spoil some vast eternal plan."
If Congress doesn't act, the food and nutrition programs will likely be extended under a continuing resolution, but we will have missed a chance to enact carefully crafted reforms that improve both the quality and nutritional value of school meals, and that improve access to programs for the large number of children who are eligible but not enrolled in programs that work.
The First Lady has spoken out on this, with an op-ed in today's Washington Post, but President Obama should also weigh in. The President did an enormous amount of good when he declared the goal of ending childhood hunger by 2015. But good is not good enough for kids in America who continue to go hungry. A word from him to the Speaker and Majority Leader would ensure that years of hard work on the Child Nutrition Reauthorization do not go to waste.
Every bill in Congress must navigate through the political thicket. That is the nature of our system. But now and then we need statesmen and stateswomen to rise above politics on behalf of those who are the most voiceless and vulnerable. Congressional schedules and "vast eternal plan" notwithstanding, this is such a time.
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