Marshall L. Matz 0000-00-00 00:00:00
United We Must Stand Serious challenges lie ahead between now and Nov. 6, 2012. <b>There is one political issue that will dominate all discussions this year: Who will win the presidential election on November 6, 2012? All other issues are secondary—or will serve as factors in the race for the White House. It will be the most expensive presidential campaign in history—and estimates don’t even include projected spending by the so-called “independent” SuperPACS, which have become very influential in the wake of a controversial 2010 Supreme Court decision.</b> Last year, conventional wisdom held that the 2012 election would focus on health care reform, as a referendum of sorts on the presidency of Barack Obama. Today, however, with the complete collapse of the federal budget process in Congress, it seems that the election will turn on economic leadership, favoring the party that can propose the best, or the most popular, plan to attack our massive debt, raise employment numbers and restore confi - dence in the U.S. economy. The leaders of both major political parties—Democrats and Republicans—are seeking a “grand bargain” that will gain popular support. Of course, the main sticking points in any plan are taxes and what programs to cut. For SNA’s members and its legislative team, the goal is to try and figure out how school nutrition programs will fit into the budget-solution debate and work to ensure that they remain protected. It is a challenge that will not be easy. <b>Debt Debacle</b> The starting point is the size of the national debt. In an effort to get one’s head around it, let’s consider that it took 200 years for America to fall a whopping $1 trillion in the hole. That’s right, this country went from George Washington to Ronald Reagan—including two World Wars and the Great Depression—before it had amassed $1 trillion of debt. But from Ronald Reagan to the present? In just 32 years, we now have amassed another <i>$14</i> trillion in debt. The size of the federal debt is a major problem and a concern for both Democrats and Republicans. But there is little agreement on how to address it successfully—how to prevent it from getting bigger and how to whittle it down in size. As you likely know by now, a bipartisan “Super Committee” created by Congress to address the deficit utterly failed in its mission. Officially called the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction and composed of 12 members of the U.S. House and Senate, the group was charged with the responsibility of cutting $1.2 trillion from the deficit over a 10-year period. But they could not agree on a solution. Accordingly, under the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011, automatic budget cuts will kick in at the beginning of January 2013. These cuts will be divided equally between defense spending and non-defense spending. Child nutrition, as well as other federal nutrition assistance programs, are exempt from these automatic cuts. But this does not mean that SNA and other advocates of school nutrition programs can afford to relax. Congress may opt to change the rules for these budget cuts in 2012, which would allow them to deflect the embarrassment of the Super Committee’s failure in an important election year. In addition, it is clear that neither party supports making very deep cuts in the defense budget. Thus, identifying which federal programs will be cut, which will be protected and the question of taxes will be signifi cant areas of debate by Congress this year—and by candidates in the upcoming presidential election. <b>Wallet Woes</b> The problem is further complicated by the disparity of incomes in the United States. The longstanding gap between rich and poor continues to grow even wider. According to the most recent Census report, 46.2 million Americans now live in poverty, while another 51.3 million live just over the poverty line (up to 150% of poverty). The poverty line for a family of four is about $22,000, which means that a full one-third of the U.S. population, 100 million Americans, live in households with incomes below some $34,000. Of course, as school nutrition professionals, you see such economic struggles in the school cafeteria every day. It is why there are so many children getting free and reducedprice school meals today. It also is why more than 50% of all infants born in the U.S. rely on the WIC program! America’s income disparity also complicates the riddle of how to attack the debt. Programs that serve the 100 million who cannot make ends meet should be protected from budget cuts. But it’s also a fact that more people living in poverty means that there are fewer people who can help to pay the bill—through taxes—for these and all other government programs. <b><i>SNA members must take care that we do not become divided, because it is in our united front that we have the most influence.</b></i> <b>A Bumpy Road</b> SNA’s primary legislative goal this year is to protect child nutrition programs from being cut as part of any “grand bargain” initiative that might be agreed to by Congress and the Obama Administration. This challenge is complicated by the fact that, for the first time in decades, the school nutrition debate had a distinctly partisan tone in 2011. Last year, the House of Representatives, controlled by the Republicans, included language in its Agriculture Appropriations Report instructing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to abandon its proposed nutrition guidelines and start all over again and develop a new plan that will not cost any money. This directive signaled that school nutrition is no longer a bipartisan, neutral, middle-ground political issue. Instead, it has become another pawn in the partisan political fight over regulations and the role of the federal government. SNA formally filed a number of suggested changes last spring to the proposed USDA nutrition regulation on how to improve the nutrition guidelines. But the Association did not support a Congressional effort to block the proposed rule or micromanage the standard administrative rulemaking process spelled out under the Administrative Procedures Act. <b>Divided We Fall? </b>It is in this environment that SNA begins 2012 and starts the process of planning its 40th annual Legislative Action Conference. In order to be effective, SNA members and allies absolutely must come together, united, in support of the children you serve and the mission of the school meals programs. All SNA members must take care that we do not become divided by those who have different agendas, because it is in our united front that we have the most strength and influence. In 2011, I saw stress in the ranks as never before. That’s why I offer this important message today. If SNA is to protect school meal programs throughout the budget and nutrition debates that lie ahead, each one of you must continue to put children first and work hard to stay united, so that SNA can carry a uniform message to Congress. Further, if SNA can remain united, it will make it much more difficult for Congress to proceed in a partisan manner. If we remain united on the funding issue and also on the final nutrition regulation, when it is published, it may bring Congress back to a bipartisan approach to child nutrition. Addressing obesity should not be a partisan issue. Fighting hunger and preparing children to learn should not be a partisan issue. If SNA leads, Congress will follow. Countries all over the world are trying to replicate America’s school nutrition programs, as well as the political alliance that has made school nutrition so successful in the United States these past 65 years. We all know that SNA is most effective when it is united. You risk losing your special magic if the organization splinters. To meet the challenges of 2012, it calls for a united front like never before. <b>SN</b> <i><b>Marshall Matz</b> is SNA’s Washington counsel and a partner at Olson Frank Weeda PC (OFW), in Washington, D.C. Visit SchoolNutrition.org for regular updates on SNA’s legislative activities.</i>
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