WASHINGTON D.C. | July 1, 2010
Thank you Mr. Chairman and good morning. This morning’s legislative hearing is the first public examination of H.R. 5504, the recently introduced Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act.
The National School Lunch program and the other initiatives that make up the Child Nutrition Act are designed to combat hunger and poor nutrition among low-income children and families. According to the Congressional Research Service, federally supported child nutrition programs reach more than 40 million children and two million lower-income expectant and new mothers daily.
Every five years or so, Congress has the opportunity to update and extend these programs. And that is exactly what we ought to be doing this year. We all recognize the role of nutritious school lunches, WIC supports, and other nutrition programs in preventing hunger and helping promote healthy children and families. We stand ready on this side of the aisle to reauthorize the programs and improve their effectiveness and efficiency.
What has given us pause, however, is the $8 billion price tag attached to this bill. That’s $8 billion the majority plans to spend – on top of the nearly $20 billion we are already spending each year on these programs, on top of the more than half billion dollars in stimulus funds appropriated last year for nutrition, obesity, and other community wellness programs, on top of the $15 billion Congress added this year in the health care bill for community based prevention programs, including nutrition and exercise programs.
Let me be clear: our child nutrition programs are a worthy investment, and one we will continue to prioritize. But at a time of record debts and deficits, creating new programs for green cafeterias and federalizing our local wellness policies and nutrition standards seems fiscally irresponsible.
As introduced, the cost of H.R. 5504 is not offset; if enacted today, it would add to our deficit. And we all know that within this committee’s jurisdiction, we do not have $8 billion for these purposes. That means we will be forced to move a bill through committee without paying for it, trusting the Speaker to find the money elsewhere or simply swipe our burgeoning credit card once again.
Our nation’s debts and deficits cannot be ignored as abstract concepts. The Congressional Budget Office announced this week the national debt will reach 62 percent of our gross domestic product by year’s end. This is a threat to our long-term economic security. It’s also a threat to our national security.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, recently warned our national debt has become our greatest national security threat. As he noted, the interest on our debt is now roughly equal to the annual defense budget. Every dollar we spend and every program we create must be weighed against the crushing burden we are placing on future generations with this unchecked spending. This is a particularly valid question on legislation professing to improve our children’s futures.
Today’s hearing will delve into specific detail about the proposed legislation. But I hope we do not allow an important discussion about nutritional science and wellness policy reporting to detract from our larger obligation to prevent hunger and improve child nutrition responsibly.
We can modernize these programs and improve their efficiency and reach without further bankrupting our nation. That is the approach to child nutrition reauthorization I would gladly support, and I look forward to hearing from our distinguished witnesses today about how we can do exactly that. I yield back.
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