The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act

THE HEALTHY, HUNGER-FREE KIDS ACT…. With the job crisis failing to improve and the debate over tax policy going poorly, is there any good news coming out of the political world? Well, I was glad to see the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act pass both chambers of Congress.

The Democrat-led House voted Thursday to send President Obama a bill that would enable more poor children to receive free meals at school, raise the nutritional quality of cafeteria fare and reduce the junk food and sugary beverages sold in school vending machines. […]

The bill, a priority for the president and first lady Michelle Obama, would boost spending on child nutrition $4.5 billion over 10 years and raise federal reimbursements for school lunches more than the inflation rate for the first time since 1973. It also would require for the first time that free drinking water be available where meals are served.

The bill accelerates the budding healthful-food movement in public education – think whole wheat pizza with low-fat cheese and low-sodium sauce – but leaves unanswered key questions about whether schools can afford to give tens of millions of students better meals.

The funding mechanism for this relatively inexpensive bill was far from ideal. Meals for low-income children, unlike tax cuts for millionaires, apparently have to be paid for, and sponsors were forced to take money from the food-stamp program in order to offset the costs of the child nutrition bill. Proponents hope to fix this down the road.

But in the meantime, this legislation should make a real difference in the lives of a lot of children.

When the Senate approved the bill over the summer, it was considered such a no-brainer that it passed by unanimous consent — not one Senate Republican objected. But in the House, GOP lawmakers, after initially trying to kill the legislation, ultimately voted against it — of the 157 Republicans who voted yesterday, 153 opposed the measure.

Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), for example, declared, ” ‘Stop growing government,’ people are telling us. ‘Stop spending money we do not have.’ It’s a simple request and a sensible one. Yet it continues to be ignored.”

First, if Kline thinks the American electorate is demanding opposition to measures related to childhood nutrition, he should probably get out of his right-wing bubble. Second, he made it sound as if this bill would add to the deficit, but it will not.

And third, just so folks get a sense of what’s to come, keep in mind that Kline will be the chairman of the House committee that oversees education policy next year.

It’s going to be a long two years.