Thursday, August 05, 2010

First Lady Lauds Lawmakers As Senate Unanimously Passes Child Nutrition Bill

Personal phone calls to Senate leaders...
"I am thrilled that Congress has taken a major step forward today in passing the Child Nutrition bill, a groundbreaking piece of legislation," First Lady Michelle Obama said in a statement from Spain late Thursday afternoon, shortly after the Senate's unanimous vote to pass the historic Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

Noting that the bill "will help us provide healthier school meals to children across America and will play an integral role in our efforts to combat childhood obesity," Mrs. Obama added "I know how much work it has taken to get to this point."

The bill passed out of committee last March, and though it has had bipartisan support, there has been much worry that it would not pass. The vote was by "unanimous consent," which is rarely employed for bills that are high profile and/or costly. It came following the vote for the confirmation of President Obama's Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, who is now the fourth woman confirmed as a Justice, with a 63-37 vote.

According to a White House official, Mrs. Obama made phone calls to the bipartisan group of Senators who led the fight for the legislation, and she praised the same group in her formal statement.

"I want to commend Senators Reid, Lincoln, McConnell, and Chambliss for their leadership and thank them for their work to garner bipartisan support for this legislation," Mrs. Obama said.

On Monday, Mrs. Obama published her first-ever Op Ed in the Washington Post, urging Congress to pass the legislation. Improving the federal meal programs is one of the pillars of the Let's Move! campaign, and the bill reauthorizes the federal child nutrition programs, which are set to expire on September 30th. The bill includes only a portion of the $10 billion requested by the Obama administration for Let's Move! in the FY2011 budget, but provides $4.5 billion over ten years, the largest investment in child nutrition programs since their inception. It will also set nutritional standards that ensure schools are serving healthier meals, and includes the first increase in the reimbursement rate for school lunch programs since 1973. Since Let's Move! first launched in February, the First Lady has repeatedly called on Congress to act, as has a huge coalition of citizen advocates. It's the first legislative win for the campaign.

"While childhood obesity cannot be solved overnight, with everyone working together, there’s no question that it can be solved," Mrs. Obama said this afternoon. "And today’s vote moves us one step closer to reaching that goal."

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has testified before Congress numerous times in support of the legislation, also issued a statement praising the Senate, as well as Mrs. Obama, and he noted that the bill is "a great victory for America's children."

"First Lady Michelle Obama has been a tremendous champion for this legislation," Sec. Vilsack said. "Passage of this legislation demonstrates our commitment to reduce hunger, improve the health of our children and support their academic achievement."

The Secretary, too, lauded Sens. Reid, Lincoln, McConnell, and Chambliss for their leadership.

"I congratulate the Senate for its work and urge Congress to continue to move this bill forward as quickly as possible," Sec. Vilsack said.

Rep. George Miller (D-CA), Chair of the Education & Labor Committee, and leader of the child nutrition legislation efforts from the House, congratulated the Senate, too.

"By changing the way our children eat in school, after school, in child care and community-based settings, we can make a real difference for our children and for our future,” Rep. Miller said.

The Gang of Four...
Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), who chairs the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, spent much of last week drawing attention to the bill, which included repeated appearances on the Senate floor to call her colleagues to action, as well as a news conference in which she was accompanied by kids dressed up as vegetables (above).

Sens. Saxby Chambliss (GA) and Mitch McConnell (KY), both Republicans, have been staunch supporters of Mrs. Obama's campaign. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) promised last week to get the legislation to the floor for a vote before the Senate's August recess. But with plenty of other bills competing for attention, it wasn't a sure bet until this afternoon.

The First Lady's full statement:

"I am thrilled that Congress has taken a major step forward today in passing the Child Nutrition bill – a groundbreaking piece of legislation that will help us provide healthier school meals to children across America and will play an integral role in our efforts to combat childhood obesity. Over the past few months, this bill has garnered widespread support from both Democrats and Republicans, all of whom care deeply about the health and wellbeing of our children and are committed to ensuring they have the nutrition they need to learn, grow and succeed. I know how much work it has taken to get to this point, and I want to commend Senators Reid, Lincoln, McConnell, and Chambliss for their leadership and thank them for their work to garner bipartisan support for this legislation. While childhood obesity cannot be solved overnight, with everyone working together, there’s no question that it can be solved -- and today’s vote moves us one step closer to reaching that goal."

Secretary Vilsack's full statement:

"I applaud the bipartisan action in the Senate today to reauthorize and reform the child nutrition and WIC programs by passing the “The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.” First Lady Michelle Obama has been a tremendous champion for this legislation, and I commend the leadership of Senators Reid, McConnell, Lincoln, Chambliss and the remainder of the Senate for their unanimous support. This is a great victory for America's children. This bill advances the Obama Administration’s priorities to improve meal quality, strengthen nutrition standards for school meals, reduce barriers and increase access to healthy school meals, promote nutrition education, establish standards for competitive foods, and provide food to needy children during gap periods when the regular nutrition assistance programs are not in operation. Passage of this legislation demonstrates our commitment to reduc e hunger, improve the health of our children and support their academic achievement. I congratulate the Senate for its work and urge Congress to continue to move this bill forward as quickly as possible."

Rep. Miller's Full statement:

“Our children need healthy meals to be able to grow, thrive and succeed in school and in life. Today, the Senate took an important step forward by passing their bipartisan legislation. I applaud Senator Lincoln and Senator Chambliss for their leadership to help get America’s families and children back on the road to healthy eating and healthier living. By changing the way our children eat in school, after school, in child care and community-based settings, we can make a real difference for our children and for our future.”

*Photos: First Lady by AP; Sen. Lincoln courtesy of Senate Ag Committee