Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Critical Thinking

Commenter Tyler writes, in response to my previous post mentioning Rep. John Boehner, "If you knew anything about the man, you'd know he's fought against Democrat attempts to cut child nutrition programs in his own committee (Education & Workforce). The ignorance of the left never ceases."

Now, I certainly welcome criticism and debate, although I don't welcome gratuitous insults -- I am definitely not ignorant. So I hope Tyler will continue to visit and engage us in discussion here, in a civil and respectful manner.

As for the facts of this matter, the Democrats obviously support spending for child nutrition progams at a higher level than do the Republicans. In fact, Mr. Bush has proposed (again) cutting these programs in the new budget, and the Democrats on Rep. Boehner's committee oppose these reductions. (Subsidized school lunches, the WIC supplemental nutrition program, and some other programs to feed needy kids in homeless shelters, summer camps, etc. are normally wrapped up in a single piece of legislation.) The issue in question was not that Democrats wanted to "cut" these programs. Rather, it had to do with nutritional quality of school lunches. As James Weill, Director of the Food Research and Action Center, testified before the corresponding Senate Committee:

We have to improve the nutrition environment in which children consume the meals and snacks offered in the child nutrition programs. The Secretary of Agriculture should have the authority to control the sale of competitive foods throughout the school from the time school opens in the morning until the end of the last lunch period, in order to ensure as much as reasonably possible the healthfulness of foods offered to children. Other steps to improve health and reduce obesity should be part of this process.

Boehnert opposed giving the Secretary this authority. In the new legislation, local schools are required to develop their own "wellness" programs, but there will be no federal standards for the content or quality of these programs, or the quality of school meals. It is likely, obviously, that local school districts will often be ineffective at getting junk food out of their schools. To portray this dispute as an effort by Democrats to "cut" child nutrition programs seems fundamentally, ahh, disingenuous, shall we say?

It's no surprise that Boehnert would take this position. While he receives the largest share of campaign funding from the financial industry, he is a significant beneficiary of campaign funding from the Food and Beverage Industry ($8,375 in 2005-6); Food Production and Sales ($11,520); Retail Sales (including convenience stores -- $8,500); and, interestingly though perhaps off topic, Alcoholic Beverages ($17,000). More important than his personal campaign fundraising, no doubt, is Boehnert's role as a major fundraiser for Republican causes in general -- he has his own PAC -- and as a K Street power broker. According to Jonathan Kaplan writing in The Hill:

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), a likely candidate for a position in the House Republican leadership if former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) does not return, has assembled a loyal and effective network of lobbyists.
Boehner formed his alliances on K Street when he served as chairman of the GOP conference from 1995 to 1998, when his portfolio included working with lobbyists on K Street.

“He was a policy traffic cop for the business community,” one of Boehner’s allies said. “When [former Rep. J.C.] Watts [Okla.] won [the election for conference chairman], DeLay, in the whip position, vacuumed in the policy and business outreach. He added staff and translated business outreach into votes, which is something [Missouri Rep.] Roy [Blunt] is doing now.”

Many GOP sources say Boehner would receive strong support from his so-called K Street Cabinet if he decides to run for another leadership post. He is considered a strong contender to become majority leader or speaker if DeLay, who is under indictment on charges of conspiracy and money laundering in Texas, does not return to his post or if Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) retires in 2008.

The sources add that Boehner would likely be able to count on strong support in either case from these lobbyists:

• Bruce Gates of Washington Council Ernst & Young, whose wife, Joyce, served as Boehner’s administrative assistant.

• Henry Gandy of the Duberstein Group.

• Michael Boland and Peter Madigan of Johnson, Madigan, Peck, Boland and Stewart.

• James Boland of Sundquist Anthony, who is Michael Boland’s brother.

• Robert Schellhas of Citibank.

• John Fish of Reynolds American.

• Marc Lampkin of Quinn Gillespie & Associates.

• Barry Jackson, a senior adviser to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove.

• Gary Andres of the Dutko Group.

• Nicholas Calio of Citibank.

• Dirk Van Dongen of the National Association of Wholesaler Distributors.

“It’s a pretty broad-based orbit and relationships of people who saw him as a rising star when he was just a junior member,” said a senior GOP lobbyist close to Boehner.

Gates and Gandy hosted the first of the now-famous warehouse parties that have become regular features of Republican national conventions and are referred to as “the Boehner parties.” The first was in 1996 in San Diego.

While many lawmakers use Washington’s button-down restaurants to host fundraisers, Boehner and his allies prefer the more relaxing Cantina Marina, a bar and restaurant noted for its Gulf Coast and Cajun fare, located on the Potomac waterfront in Georgetown, several of the lobbyists said.

Each August, Boehner diligently raises money for members of his Education and the Workforce Committee, GOP challengers and vulnerable incumbents; this summer the beneficiary was Rep. Cathy McMorris (R-Wash.).

And, as for my other characterizations, Boehner is a vocal backer of the Iraq war and of increased military spending; of Social Security privatization (and simultaneously, and opponent of protections for small investors); and of yet more tax cuts for the wealthy.

It is, unfortunately, a common practice of the political right to fundamentally misrepresent the policy positions and actions of their opponents. For example, Max Cleland and other Democratic Senators were attacked for opposing the president's efforts to "protect the homeland" because they advocated for employees of the new Department of Homeland Security to be covered by civil service protections.

Tyler, there may well be arguments on both sides of the dispute over school lunches, but you fundamentally mischaracterized it. And you cannot deny that Boehnert, in his role on the Agriculture Committee, is trying to cut funding for food stamps, even as more and more Americans are going hungry, which is what I posted about in the first place. Do you care to defend that? I'll be happy to discuss it.

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