Tuesday, May 31, 2011

GOP questions federal rules on healthier eating

House Republicans are pushing back against Obama administration efforts to promote healthier lunches, saying the Agriculture Department should rewrite rules it issued in January meant to make school meals healthier. They say the new rules are too costly.

The bill, approved by the House Appropriations Committee late Tuesday, also questions a government proposal to curb marketing of unhealthy foods to children and urges the Food and Drug Administration to limit rules requiring calorie counts be posted on menus.

The overall spending bill would cut billions from USDA and FDA budgets, including for domestic feeding programs and international food aid. The panel also cut some farm subsidies to cut spending.

Republicans are concerned about the cost of many of the Obama administration proposals, which they regard as overregulation, said Chris Crawford, a spokesman for the chairman of the Appropriations Committee's agriculture subcommittee, Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga.

Crawford said the marketing guidelines, released last month, are "classic nanny-state overreach." Though the guidelines, which would restrict which foods could be marketed to children, are voluntary, many companies are concerned that they will be penalized if they don't follow them. The bill questions whether the Agriculture Department should spend money to be part of the marketing effort.

"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."

The school lunch guidelines are the first major nutritional overhaul of students' meals in 15 years. Under the guidelines, schools would have to cut sodium in subsidized meals by more than half, use more whole grains and serve low-fat milk. They also would limit kids to only one cup of starchy vegetables a week, so schools couldn't offer french fries every day.

The starchy vegetable proposal has been criticized by conservatives who think it goes too far and members of Congress who represent potato-growers. They say potatoes are a low-cost food that provides fiber and other nutrients.

The Republican spending bill also encourages the FDA to limit new guidelines that require calories to be posted on menus to restaurants, asking that grocery stores, convenience stores and other places whose primary purpose is not to sell food be excluded from the rules.

The effort would dial back many of first lady Michelle Obama's priorities in her "Let's Move" campaign to curb childhood obesity and hunger.

"This shows a very clear trend in trying to undermine some of the important gains in nutrition policy," said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest.

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.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Obama’s political momentum: A little or a lot?

President Barack Obama is destined to receive a bump in his poll numbers after the killing of Osama bin Laden.

But how long will it last?

That question vexed experts Monday, with most saying the bounce is unlikely to last long enough to help the president in his 2012 re-election campaign.

“This will give him some momentum and put him out of the danger category, at least for a little bit,” said pollster John Zogby.

The first national polls probably won’t be published until today or Wednesday, Zogby said. He predicted that Obama would receive a bump of about 10 points in his job approval rating. Last week, 46 percent of Americans approved of the job Obama is doing and 46 percent disapproved, according to a Gallup poll.

That 10-point bump would be far short of the 35-point boost that President George W. Bush received in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

The popular surge in the polls could last several weeks — or longer. Or it could dissipate within days should a new crisis emerge or if American weariness with the slow-to-rebound economy or high gasoline prices again sets in.

“It’s so hard to say,” Zogby said. “There are just so many variables.”

The next presidential election is 18 months away — an eternity in American politics. Rallies “dissipate fairly quickly,” noted Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor-in-chief.

Bush enjoyed a seven-point bump in the days after Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was captured in December 2003. But it was gone late the next month when his job approval dipped to 49 percent.

But there are exceptions. After the 9/11 attacks, Bush’s job approval numbers remained elevated for 105 weeks compared with what they were before the assaults. President Franklin Roosevelt’s job approval was up for 46 weeks after Pearl Harbor.

Obama could see some lasting value with that crucial bloc of independent voters who make up about one-third of the electorate and swing presidential elections to one party or the other.

“They’re looking for resolve, problem-solving, decisiveness,” Zogby said. “And this has all of that.”

All day Monday, politicians from both parties issued statements or stood before TV cameras to offer their reactions. Almost without fail, Democrats hailed the president by name, praising his courage for, as U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri put it, “one of the most significant achievements in our nation’s efforts to combat terrorism worldwide.”

Joan Wagnon, chair of the Kansas Democratic Party, noted that the U.S. has been chasing bin Laden for 10 years.

“Obama is the one who put focus on it, authorized it and got it done,” she said.

Some Republicans also praised the president, but some did so in a slightly different way, saying the attack on bin Laden’s compound Sunday showed that Obama had followed the Bush playbook on combating terrorism or that any accolades belonged to America’s military.

“This achievement is a great triumph for the U.S. military,” said Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican. “They deserve the credit. … The president deserves credit for letting the military do its job and not pulling them off course.”

Giving a president “credit or blame” is hard, Kobach said, because “most people recognize the individual successes of the American armed forces on the battlefield.”

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a potential 2012 presidential contender, said the victory is a “tribute to the patient endurance of American justice.” He commended both Bush, “who led the campaign against our enemies through seven long years,” and Obama, “who continued and intensified the campaign in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Alex Poulter with Political Chips, a Lenexa tea party organizing group, said that the credit goes to “the greatest military in the world” and that tea partiers are “very grateful and thankful that President Obama had the wherewithal and intestinal fortitude to go against his party and his campaign rhetoric to follow the path drawn up for him by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.”

The key for Obama will be to stack up several other accomplishments in the wake of bin Laden’s death, said Kansas State University political scientist Joe Aistrup.

“If he can back it up with some more positive news in a variety of areas, this will build,” Aistrup said. “If it’s a lone victory, he’s going to be hurting come election time.”