Another Big Labor/Big Gov pet project comes up for a vote in the House today. The federal child nutrition bill will get an up-or-down vote after wrangling on both sides of the aisle. It will be paid for through cuts in the food stamp program, which the White House promises Dems it will repay. Ha.
As we all know around here, government programs “for the children” are never about the children. I first shed light on the SEIU drivers behind First Lady Michelle Obama’s child nutrition expansion push way back in February.
Behind every seemingly good deed in the Obama White House, there’s a deep-pocketed, left-wing special interest. Take First Lady Michelle Obama’s crusade against childhood obesity. Who really benefits from the ostensible push for improved nutrition in the schools? Think purple – as in the purple-shirted army of the Service Employees International Union. Big Labor bigwigs don’t care about slimming your kids’ waistlines. They care about beefing up their membership rolls and fattening their coffers.
Mrs. Obama earned a State of the Union Address shout-out from her hubby for taking on the weighty public policy issue of students’ physical fitness. The East Wing is now in full campaign mode – leaning on the nation’s mayors, traveling with the Surgeon General, and meeting with Congress and cabinet members to reauthorize the Lyndon Johnson-era Child Nutrition Act, which provides government-subsidized meals to more than 30 million children. It’s part of the Obama administration’s self-proclaimed “cradle-to-career” agenda for America’s youth.
For decades, this Great Society relic has been criticized by school administrators for outgrowing its initial conception. The program was originally created to use up post-World War II food surpluses. In the late 1970s, New York principal Lewis Lyman skewered it as a federal “boondoggle” in a seminal essay for the education journal, Phi Delta Kappan. But Democrats demagogued the GOP’s responsible attempts at financial reform during the Clinton years as “starving the children.” While spending on youth nutrition and wellness have ballooned, so have the kids. Nearly one-third of U.S. children are now overweight or obese. The feds spend $15 billion a year on nutrition in schools; the White House wants at least a $1 billion increase this coming fiscal year.
The well-intended program to feed poor kids has morphed into an untouchable universal entitlement with a powerful school lunch lobbying coalition of Department of Agriculture bureaucrats, food-service industry executives, and union bosses. Enter the SEIU. Headed up by the White House’s most frequent visitor, Andy Stern, the powerful labor organization representing government and private service employees has an insatiable appetite for power and growth. Working alongside the First Lady, the SEIU unveiled a major ad campaign this week demanding reauthorizing and funding increases in the Child Nutrition Act.
What’s in it for Big Labor? SEIU Executive Vice President Mitch Ackerman explains: “A more robust expansion of school lunch, breakfast, summer feeding, child care and WIC [the federal Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program] is critical to reducing hunger, ending childhood obesity, and providing fair wages and healthcare for front line food service workers (emphasis added).” There are 400,000 workers who prepare and serve lunch to American schoolchildren. SEIU represents tens of thousands of those workers and is trying to unionize many more. “More robust expansion” of the federal school lunch law means a mandate for higher wages, increased benefits, and government-guaranteed health insurance coverage (the more luxurious the better now that SEIU has negotiated its Cadillac Tax exemption from the Democrats’ health care takeover bill).
The SEIU’s front group, “Campaign for Quality Services,” is clamoring for “the right to sick days and training” for school food-services workers. Never ones to let a crisis go unexploited, SEIU sent its members to lobby in front of Chicago public schools last year and scare parents into supporting their labor agenda. They accused the school system of “putting our kids at risk” during flu season by resisting the SEIU’s sick day coverage demands. “Without sick days, I can’t take a day off, so I have to bring germs to school,” an SEIU janitor lamented.
Along the same lines, they are casting food-services workers as indispensable saviors. The union has rallied behind p.r. efforts casting them as superheroes “serving justice, and serving lunch.” Opposing the union means opposing children’s health. SEIU propaganda features New Jersey school cafeteria workers like Leslie Williams of Orange, N.J. lamenting: “I love my work, but it’s getting harder to prepare nutritious meals on the low budget we’re working with…It breaks my heart to see a child who’s hungry. As I see it, part of my job is to make sure the kids are well-fed.”
Actually, that’s the primary job of parents. Mom? Dad? Remember them? But the more responsibility we demand of parents, the less power and influence SEIU bosses are able to grab. Unionized school dietician and nutrition jobs are booming. And in addition to school breakfast and lunch, the SEIU is now pushing subsidized dinner plans and summer food service to create a “stronger nutrition safety net.” Translation: Perpetual employment for big government and its public employee union au pairs.
Cede the children, feed the state.
The message seems to have penetrated — and some Republicans are fighting back against the nanny state:
Launched in February 2010, Obama’s “Let’s Move” program has enjoyed the support of large corporations and has mostly drawn broad bipartisan support. She toured Mississippi with Gov. Haley Barbour (R) to tout the program, and also appeared on the Fox News program hosted by former Republican governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
But Republican gains in the mid-term elections seem to have given new life to the bill’s GOP critics, with lawmakers like Kline chafing at cost and “food mandates,” and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin calling Obama’s initiative an example of government over-reaching.
“Members of the U.S. House of Representatives – Republicans and Democrats alike – have been completely shut out of the legislative process of extending and improving child nutrition programs,” Kline said in a statement. “This legislation, which dramatically increases federal spending and food mandates, has not received a single House committee hearing or vote.”
…Palin said Obama is “telling us is she cannot trust parents to make decisions for their own children, for their own families, in what we should eat.” The self-described “mama grizzly” recently showed up at a Pennsylvania school with a plate of cookies to protest that state’s move to cut out junk food in schools.
“I know I’m going to be criticized for bringing this up,” Palin said in an interview with conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham. “But instead of a government thinking that they need to take over and make decisions according to some politician or politician’s wife’s priorities–just leave us alone. Get off our back, and allow us as individuals to exercise our own God-given rights to make our own decisions, and then our country gets back on the right track.”
Stay tuned. I’ll update with the roll call vote.