With All the Problems Facing U.S., House to Vote on Bill to Improve School Lunches
Washington (AP) - Congress is poised to give President Barack Obama -- along with his wife, Michelle -- a congressional victory as the House takes up legislation to push greasy foods off the school lunch line and sugary drinks out of vending machines.
The president met with liberal Democrats Tuesday in a last minute push to unite his party in support of a $4.5 billion child nutrition bill that would improve lunches in schools and expand feeding programs for low-income students.
Many Democrats signaled opposition to the legislation in September because it is partially paid for with cuts in future funding for food stamps. But several of them have now said they will support the bill after the Republican victories in the November elections.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., was one Democrat who came around after meeting with Obama Tuesday. The White House has said it will find other vehicles to restore the food stamp cuts.
"I am very pleased we were able to work together with the president and his team to address concerns regarding cuts to the food stamp program," Lee said after the meeting.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also rallied Democrats, holding a news conference with Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Jim McGovern of Massachusetts in anticipation of House debate on the bill this week. The two Democrats led 100 of their colleagues against the bill two months ago after the Senate approved it with the $2.2 billion in food stamp dollars. But they now say they will support it after the White House promised to restore the food stamp funding.
Pelosi called passing the bill the "right, moral thing for us to do."
While Democrats have come together in support of the legislation, it is unclear if Republicans will try to use procedural maneuvers to stall it. A spokesman for House Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he will vote against the bill but would not say if the GOP planned any procedural votes.
The first lady has lobbied for new school lunch standards as part of her "Let's Move" campaign to combat childhood obesity. The standards would not remove popular foods like hamburgers from schools but would make them healthier, using leaner meat or whole wheat buns, for example. Vending machines could be stocked with less candy and fewer high-calorie drinks.
Creation of new standards, which public health advocates have sought for years, has unprecedented support from many of the nation's largest food and beverage companies. The two sides came together on the issue as public pressure to remove junk foods from schools increased.
Congressional passage of the bill would be only the first step. Decisions on what kinds of foods could be sold -- and what ingredients may be limited -- would be left up to the Agriculture Department.
The legislation would also increase the number of children who receive free or low-cost lunches at school and increase the amount of money schools are reimbursed by 6 cents a meal.