House Dems still negotiating on child nutrition legislation

House Democrats still hope to bring a childhood nutrition bill to the floor next week.

Lawmakers are under pressure to clear a Senate-passed, $4.5 billion bill. The bill was expected to come up this week, but liberals balked at cutting food stamps to pay for the bill.

"Negotiations are still ongoing," said one House staffer whose boss is among those raising objections.

The Senate bill, championed by Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), expands eligibility for school meal programs; establishes nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools; and provides a 6-cent increase for each school lunch to help cafeterias serve healthier meals. It passed by unanimous consent just before the August recess.

Many House Democrats favor a more generous, $8 billion bill sponsored by Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.).

They also oppose paying for the bill by ending the expansion of food stamp benefits in last year's recovery act six months earlier than expected (in October 2013 instead of April 2014), which raises $2 billion.

Last month, several dozen liberal Democrats -- including Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means health subpanel chairmen Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Pete Stark (D-Calif.) -- wrote to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to register their objections. The letter was sponsored by Reps. James McGovern (D-Mass.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.).

"This is one of the more egregious cases of robbing Peter to pay Paul," they wrote, "and is a vote we do not take lightly."

Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, said the food stamp reduction would cut $59 from a typical family of four’s monthly food budget.

"George Orwell would appreciate the irony: The child nutrition bill that could come up for a vote in the House as early as this week would actually take food from the mouths of children," Weill wrote in The Hill.

But child nutrition advocates are pushing hard for quick passage of Lincoln's bill.

"It is a terrific bill that we, many health groups, and the Administration support," said Margo Wootan, director of Nutrition Policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.