With one day left before Congress plans to end the year and members return home for the holidays, the House got to work Wednesday and used the valuable time it had left to pass legislation that would bring back whole milk to school cafeterias in the United States. .
An emergency aid package to finance the wars in Ukraine and Israel was left in limbo, stymied by a Republican filibuster in the Senate. Bipartisan talks on how to address the surge in migration at the U.S.-Mexico border showed no signs of yielding results. And lawmakers faced a massive time crunch to act on a dozen federal spending measures when they return after New Year's Day, when they will have just eight business days to avoid a partial government shutdown.
But on Wednesday in the Republican-controlled House, which has reached new levels of dysfunction and paralysis this year, none of that was on the agenda. Instead, between a vote to formally authorize a months-long impeachment inquiry into President Biden and a resolution condemning college presidents for their testimonies about addressing anti-Semitism, the House produced arguments for and against of the merits of full-fat dairy for children.
“I urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan, bicameral, absolutely fantastic bill,” said Rep. Lloyd K. Smucker, R-Pa. “And let's not overlook the facts: Whole milk is truly the cream of the crop in providing these key vitamins and nutrients to growing children.”
The measure, which would undo a ban on high-fat milk in schools that has been in place for more than a decade, passed by 330 votes in favor and 99 against.
Recent research largely supports the central idea of the bill. But the healthy-seeming measure also had a strong political subtext, like most laws these days.
In 2010, as Michelle Obama, then first lady, called for policy changes to combat childhood obesity, nutritional standards for schools participating in the federally assisted feeding program were updated to include a ban on whole milk in half. of health guidelines that children should avoid it. Republicans then denounced the changes and, under pressure from the dairy lobby and dairy-producing states, waited for an opportunity to reverse them.
So on Wednesday on the House floor he could barely contain his enthusiasm for the nutritional virtues of whole milk. Leading the charge was Rep. Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican who chairs the Education and Workforce Committee, who began the debate by arguing that denying milk to children was tantamount to ruining Christmas.
“The nutrients in whole milk, such as protein, calcium and vitamin D, provide the fuel Santa needs to travel around the world in one night,” Ms. Foxx said. “Whole milk is the unsung hero of his Christmas journey.”
“If whole milk is a good option for fueling Santa's extraordinary journey on Christmas Eve, why isn't it an option for American schoolchildren in their lunchrooms?” Ms. Foxx demanded, posing the question to lawmakers arguing in favor of keeping the ban.
Indifferent to puns and determined in his opposition, Representative Robert C. Scott of Virginia, the top Democrat on the education panel, argued that whole milk was less healthy than low-fat alternatives.
“Whole milk contains many more saturated fats, cholesterol and calories than nonfat and low-fat milk,” he said.
Other lawmakers determined to keep individual red-capped milk bottles out of schools argued that what Congress should really do was promote non-dairy alternatives.
“Soybeans provide the nutritional value equivalent of whole milk,” said Rep. Troy Carter, D-Louisiana.
Ms. Foxx responded that there was no problem with dairy alternatives in schools, but don't call them milk.
“We don't exclude soy beverages,” Foxx said. “It's not milk. It is a food of plant origin. It's not milk, so you can't call it soy milk. You can call it soy drink.”
The debate inspired some lawmakers to remember milk consumption in their own families. Rep. Mary Miller, R-Ill., said whole milk had done her children's bodies good.
“I raised all seven of my children on whole milk and they are all a normal weight,” she said.
The debate provided some moments of levity, including several groans and eye-rolls in response to lawmakers actually making good use of their time.
But the timing before a four-week pause, given the long list of unfinished business that Congress is about to leave behind, was too much for some lawmakers.
Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., posted an image on social media of a milk carton with a photo of President Mike Johnson stamped “Missing in Action.”
“Instead of providing aid to our allies or funding the government, today Congress voted on whether to (see notes) deregulate milk?” Moulton wrote, along with cow and cowboy emojis. “Sure, but can @SpeakerJohnson let us vote on important things too?”
Voted in favor.
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