1:25 P.M. EST
MR. PANETTA: Today, Secretaries Shalala and Riley, Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Food and Consumer Services Ellen Haas, and I want to discuss the Republican proposal that is now being considered in the committee on the House side to deal with child nutrition, or I should say, to gut the child nutrition programs in this country.
The legislation would abolish the school lunch program, the school breakfast, the WIC feeding program for pregnant women, infants and children, and other child nutrition programs, and replace them with block grants, and then would cut the funds available for those block grants. The President, as he indicated this morning, strongly opposes these proposals and will fight against them.
I'd like to give you some perspective of someone who worked in the Congress on these proposals and on these nutrition issues and the concern that I have in particular, having worked with many of these programs that really do serve the nutritional needs of kids in our country.
Let me be blunt. I've been through here a lot and seen a lot of proposals from the Reagan administration on; I think this proposal is one of the most mean-spirited, shortsighted and, I think, extreme proposals that I've seen debated in this town. It would really take food out of the mouths of millions of needy schoolchildren, toddlers, infants and mothers. And it would have a direct impact on their health and on their education. Moreover, it shifts cost to the states and local governments and the local school districts.
Back in the 1980s, the Republicans made deep cuts and proposed deep cuts in child nutrition programs that caused an estimated 1,000 schools to drop out of the school lunch program and impacted on literally hundreds of thousands of kids. By some estimates, two million to three million children at that time lost their school lunches. As someone at that time used to often say to the American people, "there they go again" -- and here the Republicans go again.
During the 1980s, having served as a member and as Chairman of the House Agriculture's Committee on -- the subcommittee on nutrition, a lot of us saw the impact of those cuts and fought against those cuts, and eventually were able to restore a lot of those programs with bipartisan support.
Let me just say that, if you look at the history of these programs, whether it's the school lunch program, or the school breakfast program, or the food stamp program, or the WIC program, that these were programs that were developed with a bipartisan consensus in the Congress. And the bipartisan support for nutrition programs to help kids runs the gamut from people like Senator Bob Dole, who I worked with a lot on the food stamp program, to people like Bill Emerson, who served with me on the subcommittee on agriculture, who supported many of these programs, to Gunderson, to people like Pat Roberts, who was on the AG committee -- this has always been a bipartisan issue in terms of support for these programs.
Why? I think it's pretty simple. These programs are right for this country, and they're right for the kids that are served by these programs. They are right morally because we are providing food to hungry kids in this country. They are right from a health point of view because they're helping improve the health of these kids. They are right from an education point of view because kids who are better fed learn better in school. That's a fact; everybody ...
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