With a day before Congress decides to close out the year and members return home for the holidays, the House got to work urgently on Wednesday, using the precious remaining time to pass legislation to put whole milk back in America’s school cafeterias . .
An emergency aid package to finance the wars in Ukraine and Israel remained suspended in limbo, hampered by Republican filibusters in the Senate. Bipartisan talks on how to address the wave of migration at the U.S. border with Mexico have shown no signs of turning a corner. And lawmakers face a daunting time crunch to implement a dozen federal spending measures when they return after New Year’s, at which point 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, sandwiched between a vote to formally authorize a months-long impeachment inquiry into President Biden and a resolution condemning university presidents for their testimony on combating anti-Semitism, the House churned out arguments for and against merits of whole dairy products for children.
“I urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan, bicameral, and absolutely fantastic bill,” said Representative Lloyd K. Smucker, Republican of Pennsylvania. “And let’s not gloss over the facts: Whole milk really is the crown jewel in providing these key vitamins and nutrients to growing babies.”
The measure, which would add a ban on high-fat milk in schools that has been in place for more than a decade, passed 330-99.
Recent research largely supports the bill’s scope. But the seemingly healthy measure also contained a strong political subtext, like most laws today.
In 2010, as Michelle Obama, then first lady, fought for policy changes to combat childhood obesity, nutrition rules for schools participating in the federally assisted meal program were updated to include a ban on whole milk and health advice that children should avoid it. Republicans then denounced the changes and, under pressure from the milk lobby and dairy-producing states, waited for an opportunity to reverse them.
So on Wednesday in the Chamber their ardor for the nutritional virtues of whole milk could hardly be contained. Leading the charge was Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, Republican of North Carolina and chair of the Education and Workforce Committee, who kicked off the debate by arguing that denying children milk is equivalent 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,” Foxx said. “Whole milk is the unsung hero of his Christmas journey.”
“If whole milk is a good option for fueling Santa’s amazing journey on Christmas Eve, then why shouldn’t it be an option for American schoolchildren in their cafeterias?” Ms. Foxx asked, posing the question to protesters who advocated maintaining the ban.
Unamused by the puns and steadfast in his opposition, Representative Robert C. Scott of Virginia, the top Democrat on the education committee, argued that whole milk was less healthy than low-fat alternatives.
“Whole milk contains much more saturated fat, cholesterol and calories than fat-free and low-fat milk,” he said.
Other lawmakers determined to keep single-serve bottles of red-top milk out of schools argued that what Congress should really do is promote non-dairy alternatives.
“Soy provides the equivalent nutritional value of whole milk,” said Rep. Troy Carter, Democrat of Louisiana.
Ms Foxx responded that there were no problems with dairy alternatives in schools – just don’t call it milk.
“We don’t rule out soy drinks,” Ms. 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 a soy drink.”
The debate has inspired some laws to remember milk consumption in their families. Rep. Mary Miller, a Republican from Illinois, said whole milk was good for her children’s bodies.
“I raised my seven children on whole milk and they are all at normal weight,” she said.
The debate provided some moments of levity, including a number of groans and eye rolls in response to lawmakers who really made use of their time.
But the timing, before a four-week recess, given the long list of outstanding issues Congress is about to leave behind, was too much for some lawmakers.
Representative Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts, posted an image on social media of a milk carton with a picture of President Mike Johnson with the words “Missing in Action.”
“Instead of providing aid to our allies or funding the government, Congress today voted whether or not to do so [checks notes] Deregulate milk?” Mr Moulton wrote, along with cow and cowboy emojis. “Sure, but can @SpeakerJohnson let us vote on important things too?”
I voted in favor.