Death by Ignorance

In May 2009, New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman introduced S. 1060, the Obesity Prevention, Treatment, and Research Act of 2009, stating: “Food and beverage advertisers are estimated to spend [up to $12B] per year to target children and youth.” It died in committee.

In June 2009, Representative Joe Sestak authored H.R. 2690, the School Meal Enhancement Act of 2009. It died in committee.

The same month, Colorado Senator Bill Bennett offered S. 1293, the Enhancing Child Health with Automatic School Meal Enrollment Act of 2009. It died in committee.

In September 2009, CSPI supported legislation by New York Representative Carolyn McCarthy addressing their concerns over junk food in schools. McCarthy’s H.R. 5431, the Start Healthy Habits Early Act, died in subcommittee.

It wasn’t until December 2010, curiously after voters fired the Democrats in the November elections, that S. 3307, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, became law. This allegedly will address vending machine in schools. However, while there appears to be broad support for addressing childhood obesity, most Americans oppose food bans and don’t think it’s the government’s business to regulate what we eat. Considering the history of failure and the utter lack of accountability consistently affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, such skepticism is justified.

Meanwhile, rather than wait for government to do something, many school districts made improvements. For example, a University of Minnesota study found that 330 public school districts had been offering healthy food for the last five years and “did not see a falloff in demand.” This highlights the benefits of local control, where schools respond to their tax-paying constituents.

All this political drama over school nutrition serves to distract constituents from the fact that public schools fail to educate. But it does create an opportunity to grow the DOE: More laws to implement and enforce means more personnel, more office space, computers, etc. The projected 2011 DOE budget is about $3B higher, perhaps reflecting this fact. Considering this process of transferring your wealth and power to the government, it’s reasonable to expect an eventual expansion of this program to include punishing parents who don’t get with the new program. After all, it’s for the children.

From 1990-2006, Agribusiness spent 31% of their total campaign contributions on Democrats ($120M out of $392M). For the 2008 and 2010 cycles, this increased to 39% ($22M of $57M). Also, since passage of McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform in 2002, Democrats have garnered an increasing share of business contributions, 55.9% in 2008 and 55.6% in 2010.

This is all further evidence that the government has no obligation to serve you -- though they seem to do well by their corporate donors -- because there are no consequences for failing the people. Perhaps it’s time to inject free market dynamics via school choice? Capitalism’s built-in feedback system of mutual self-interest between buyers and sellers offers a chance to enforce consequences via profit and loss.

* All bills available by number at the Library of Congress's THOMAS website.