Budget actions in the U.S. House on June 7 remind me of the Sesame Street game that asks children to choose items that belong together. Only in the reverse.
The mish mash of issues that make up our legislative bills these days makes it increasingly difficult for the average person to understand what these bills actually contain. The 2013 budget for the U.S. Department of Agriculture is an excellent case in point.
The Women, Infants and Children nutrition assistance program, known as WIC, insures that low-income pregnant women, infants and preschoolers have adequate nutritional foods. The expectant mothers and children up to the age of five receive subsidies for specific foods that are high in nutrition. Items such as eggs, milk, cheese, fruits and vegetables are approved foods. You know, the kind of stuff doctors tell pregnant women to eat so they will have healthy babies.
The House of Representatives approved a 10% cut to WIC. If the bill only acted on WIC voters could understand that as a matter of public policy we place a lower value now on access to good nutrition for poor families. We could focus on the cut’s full repercussions. Consider the critical role that proper nutrition plays in preventing complications such as gestational diabetes and premature births. WIC participants are also more likely to obtain prenatal care and receive counseling on healthy lifestyles. Improved nutrition through WIC assistance gives children a much better start in life after they are born. Children in poor households using the WIC program have much higher intakes of essential nutrients like iron, vitamin C, thiamin and vitamin B-6. They have better educational outcomes, better growth rates and need less health care services.
Tacking on other amendments is now the norm. Those amendments may or may not be relevant to the original bill. The same appropriations bill that set funding levels for WIC subsidies was passed with an amendment that bars government investment in new gas pumps for fuel with higher ethanol content.
The Agriculture bill included action on funding for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. This is the agency with authority to control price speculation and manipulation of oil prices. The House approved cuts to the Commission, making it harder for government watchdogs to oversee trading that could be manipulating oil costs separate from supply and demand.
It gets better. The bill also halts U.S. payments to Brazil that are connected to a controversy over unfair trade practices on cotton exports. Is this bill
In the end we have a budget that deals with childhood nutrition, gas pump development, an unfair trade practice issue and regulations over oil price speculation. This is not even a complete list of the items in this one bill.
Budgets are our values. How we choose to spend our money reflects what is important to us. But maybe no one will notice the cut to WIC and the protection of corporate farmers if we throw a whole bunch of different issues into one big bill.
Maybe Congress needs a lesson from Big Bird on what things go together. But their parents, also known as voters, are too confused by it all to know what to support. Amendments to bills have become a way to get legislation passed that might not appeal to the majority of voters. As a result cuts to programs like WIC happen, whether we want them or not.