Well-versed in obstructing help to the hungry, House Republicans first blocked, then voted against the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act yesterday, a bill that “would give more needy children the opportunity to eat free lunches at school and make those lunches healthier.” The Senate passed this bill by unanimous consent in August — essentially a 100-0 vote in favor of providing school meals to the nation’s 17 million hungry kids.
But 157 House Republicans had a different message for hungry children: get in line. During the House’s first attempt to pass the bill yesterday, Republicans “used a procedural maneuver” to add an amendment requiring background checks for child care workers. Recognizing it as a poison pill, House Democrats delayed the final vote till today rather than allow an amendment to “kill the bill.” The main champion of this tactic Rep. John Kline (R-MN) decried the Hunger-Free Act as a Democratic ploy to increase government spending. On the House floor yesterday, Kline insisted the bill was massive “deficit spending,” dismissing the bill’s offsets as a “stalling tactic that obscures government expansion”:
KLINE: The people are telling us, stop spending money we don’t have…this bill spends another $4.5 billion on various programs and initiatives and creates or expands 17, 17 separate federal programs…The majority claims this bill is paid for. They want us to believe we can grow government with no cost or consequences, but the American people know that’s just not true. More spending is more spending. Whether or not those dollars are offset elsewhere in the massive federal budget, but one offset is particularly questionable. The truth is that, at least some portion of the billions of new program costs is deficit spending. This money was borrowed from our children and grandchildren in 2009 when it was put in the stimulus. That borrowed money is simply being redirected today. It was borrowed then and its borrowed now. This bill with its so-called pay for is merely a stalling tactic. It obscures government expansion in the short-term so this bill can become law and its spending can become permanent.
An equally indignant Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) called the pay-for “a farce!” “It’s a farce, it’s a lie. And it’s borrowing more from our children and this kind of idiocy just has to stop,” he added.
The only “lie” emanating from the House floor yesterday came directly from Kline and Broun. The bill is indeed paid for, unfortunately with offsets from food stamp benefits included in the Recovery Act. Because of the Congressional pay-as-you-go rules that prohibits deficit spending on non-emergency measures, Democrats reluctantly raided much-needed food stamp funds — again — to pay for the Hunger-Free Act. Kline and Broun’s outrage at such a strategy is curious, considering Republicans have pushed the same exact strategy in the past.
Not only is their “deficit spending” cry hypocritical, it is also a downright lie. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the offsets in the Senate bill will actually generate “total savings that effectively meet or exceed costs” while simultaneously providing meals to hungry children. Essentially, 157 Republicans voted to block the holy grail of legislation. The House did, however, pass the bill today and it will now go to the President for signature.
The GOP’s continuing callous treatment of those in need was not lost on Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). “If cutting off unemployment insurance for out-of-work Americans wasn’t enough, House Republicans are now blocking critical legislation to help schools feed thousands of hungry children,” he told ThinkProgress. “Childhood nutrition shouldn’t be a partisan issue. But Congressional Republicans – intent on blocking any progress while President Obama is in office – are willing to put hungry children in the partisan crosshairs.”
UPDATE: Congress today passed the child nutrition bill, sending it to the President for his signature.