White House spokesman Reid Cherlin said the administration has committed to restoring any proposed cuts to SNAP and will do all it can to move the $8 billion bill forward.
“SNAP is not blocking the bill,” he said. “We’re working with the House leadership to schedule the bill as soon as it fits into the House schedule.”
But Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who co-wrote a letter to the White House opposing the use of SNAP funds, told POLITICO that he and 106 others who signed it “have been saying everything we possibly could to make it clear that this would be a problem.”
Still, “there is a pledge to try to help us work this out,” he said.
Advocates for the poor and most Capitol Hill Democrats eagerly support the child nutrition bill’s provisions, which include broader access to free or reduced-price school meal programs and improved nutritional standards. The bill dovetails with the first lady’s high-profile “Let’s Move!” initiative to reduce childhood obesity, and she was personally involved in moving the bill through the legislative process.
But observers say the White House should have seen trouble coming in August, when the Senate passed a less ambitious version of the bill and proposed funding it with another cut to the food stamp program. Lobbying House Democrats to support the smaller Senate bill didn’t begin until late September — too late to iron out a deal before the midterm elections, when Republicans are poised to make big gains and perhaps take control of the House.
Advocates also say the House never had the option to pass their larger bill, despite attempts stretching into September to find ways to pay for it without adding to the deficit. Opponents of the smaller Senate bill say their opposition to SNAP cuts had been well known since August.
“A lot of the progressive Democrats were unrealistic about what could be done,” said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “If wanted their own bill, they should have finished it before the August recess.”
Unaccustomed to counting congressional votes for nutrition legislation that is reauthorized every six years without much drama, advocates galvanized early this week to push reluctant Democrats. They were stunned by the last-minute House gridlock, compared with the Senate, which passed the bill by unanimous consent in August as part of its usual bipartisan effort to reauthorize federal nutrition programs.
But as the search for alternative funding for the House version stretched into the fall, key anti-hunger organizations like Feeding America and the Food Research and Action Center, which supported the original bill, bucked the first lady and dug in their heels when the scaled-down Senate version became the standard — and SNAP cuts were part of the bargain.
Wednesday night, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office said she is committed to bringing up the bill when the House reconvenes after the elections, but passing it during a lame-duck session is a gamble at best.
“I would love to be on that phone call where Nancy Pelosi has to tell the first lady why she wasn’t able to pass this,” said one nutrition advocate who spoke on condition of anonymity.