Having already moved to gut USDA programs promoting agricultural conservation and renewable energy and strip the USDA of its authority to enact the first meaningful reform of the irredeemably monopolistic livestock industry, House Republicans have now turned their attention to that other great threat to American freedom: USDA nutrition guidelines.
According to the Associated Press, Republican appropriators in the House of Representatives (the lawmakers who control the government’s purse) are on the verge of defunding significant parts of school-lunch reform and elements of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! program, as well as the recently announced voluntary Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines that would restrict junk-food advertising aimed at young children.
As a spokesperson for House Appropriations Committee Chair Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) put it, the new FTC rule in particular is “classic nanny-state overreach”:
“Our concern is those voluntary guidelines are back-door regulation,” he said, deploring the fact that kids can watch shows that depict sex and drugs on MTV, but “you cannot see an advertisement for Tony the Tiger during the commercial break.”
Ah, the House GOP — making the world safe for Tony the Tiger. But the fury of the Cuddly Corporate Marketing Character Lobby pales in comparison to that of the Potato Lobby. Big Spud is furious — furious, I tell you — that the new USDA guidelines for school lunches would restrict starchy vegetables such as the potato to a one-cup-a-week appearance on the plates of schoolchildren nationwide. In place of the mighty potato would come additional servings of whole grains, orange and green veggies, and low-fat milk. It’s enough to drive you around the bend!
Never mind that the potato is by far the most-consumed vegetable in America and that restricting it at school would still allow parents to stuff their children with French-fried, mashed, and chipped potatoes outside of school hours. Attention must be paid! So the Potato Lobby and representatives from potato-growing regions are fighting back hard.
And how about the new calorie-labeling requirement that was included in health-reform legislation? The House GOP is going after that, too.
While snark seems the only reasonable response to such utter fecklessness from our elected representatives, the fact is that the situation is deadly serious:
The overall spending bill would cut billions from USDA and FDA budgets, including for domestic feeding programs and international food aid. Even after some of the money was restored Tuesday, the bill would still cut about $650 million — or 10 percent — from the Women, Infants and Children program that feeds and educates mothers and their children. It would cut almost 12 percent of the Food and Drug Administration’s $2.5 billion budget, straining the agency’s efforts to implement a new food safety law signed by the president early this year.
Indeed, this is no laughing matter. On the one hand, this is just the House, which, in the iron grip of the Tea Party, is spitting out one destructive piece of legislation after another. The Democrat-controlled Senate will have no interest in much of what the House disgorges. But the two houses of Congress must ultimately agree on spending legislation. The question is how the houses can meaningfully meet when one side has gone so far afield.