Mitch McConnell Kills Year-Round School Meals. Politico Blames 'Congress.' Go F*ck Yourself Politico :)
USDA school lunch photo from the Before Times (2013)

When Congress passed the great big omnibus spending bill earlier this month, there was one item that we just barely noticed at the time. The bill funds the US government for the rest of fiscal 2022 — that is, through September — but one item it didn't include was an extension of the federal program that waived eligibility requirements for school meals, so any family that wanted the meals could sign up, year round, regardless of income. Without the extension, the old eligibility requirements will kick back in place on June 30. Yes, while the pandemic is still with us.

That's actually a pretty significant loss for low-income families, since the USDA waiver program, part of the pandemic relief packages going back to the very first one, provided school meals to an additional 10 million kids per day.

Schools and nutrition advocates had been expecting the program to be extended at least a year (and there's a good case to be made that universal school meals should be permanent, like in some kind of civilized country). So what kept that from happening? As Politico reported earlier this month, there's a real simple reason: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was absolutely opposed to the extension. As a "GOP leadership aide" explained to Politico, the idea was to get control of government spending and return schools to "normal." In Republican-speak, that means free school lunches must be a mark of shame, not something families should rely on.

Also, it was absolutely vital to not spend the $11 billion the extension would have cost, because fiscal responsibility starts with hungry kids.

Not that you'd necessarily know that killing off the school meal funding was entirely McConnell's doing, because Politico had to go and muddy the waters. Instead of headlining the piece "Free school meals end due to McConnell opposition," Politico framed it as if there were many people responsible for the elimination of the waiver program: "Finger-pointing ensues after Congress fails to extend universal school meals." As journalist David Roberts tweeted in an excellent thread on the Politico fiasco,

"Finger-pointing ensues." What? McConnell did it! You can argue over his reasons, but everyone acknowledges he did it! Only one finger need point, in one direction, FFS!

There's at least this much of a hint that the article may have originally pointed a single finger, possibly a middle one, at the real culprit: The article URL contains what may have been the working title: "free-school-meals-end-mcconnell-opposition." Yes indeed, that's what happened!

Politico took pains to hide that, however. For all the article's talk of "a fierce political fight ... over who is to blame," you won't find a single Democrat who called for the waivers to be dropped. But you will find this paragraph indicating that the Senate was originally working toward extending the program, at least temporarily.

There are intense disagreements about how and why the waiver extension was not included in the omnibus bill unveiled early Wednesday morning. Half a dozen sources on both sides of the aisle told POLITICO that the Senate Agriculture Committee was negotiating the details of how to extend the waivers with language that would specify how schools would transition back to normal when the issue got taken out of committee by leadership.

"Intense disagreements"? Not exactly. Nobody involved in the process appears to have said anything about anyone other than McConnell calling for the waiver program to be axed. The article does note, however, that

Nutrition and anti-hunger advocates believed McConnell was opposing the waiver extension as a tactic to extract concessions from Democrats on something else in the ongoing omnibus talks over the weekend, but by late Sunday they said it became clear that the minority leader was just a hard “no” on the policy.

The article also quotes Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), who firmly placed the blame on Republican leadership in a statement to Politico, saying that

Instead of continuing the bipartisan tools and flexibilities to help safely provide meals to students during school and over the summer, which could easily be done in the omnibus, Republican leadership has said NO and decided that they prefer to let our kids go hungry. This is a disgrace!

So where's the intense finger-pointing at Democrats who must be equally responsible here? There isn't any, except from that unidentified "GOP leadership aide" who said that it was time to "clamp down on government spending and get schools back to normal." That aide offered some brilliant retroactive spin that, if you squint really hard through both-sides-colored glasses, attempts to shift the blame from McConnell to Joe Biden, who must surely have wanted the waivers to end. That aide "explained" it was all Joe Biden's fault:

“President Biden submitted a $22 billion Covid supplemental request for the [omnibus spending bill] with not a mention of USDA or nutrition,” the aide said. “So there was no proposal for anyone to block. These were designed as ‘temporary’ Covid measures.”

See? Biden didn't specifically ask "Mitch May I?" so tough luck, kids. Politico notes the aide "repeatedly" suggested the blame was entirely Biden's.

Mind you, if there was never any proposal for McConnell to block, it doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense that sources from both parties told Politico the Ag Committee was working on an extension until it was suddenly pulled by leadership, apparently in response to an ultimatum from McConnell.

Also, for the hell of it, that anonymous GOP aide added that the USDA waiver programs "were designed to encourage schools to close and go virtual," which Politico makes clear is a lie, although the article doesn't call it a lie. Instead, the lie is reduced to yet another item that people just disagree about:

School nutrition leaders note that the waivers are mostly being used to offer free meals to all students and get schools more money per meal to help cover rising food and labor costs. The waivers do not encourage virtual options, but they allow schools to easily serve grab and go meals when students are not on campus, if they want to.

And there you have political journalism in the age of alternative facts: In an article about how Mitch McConnell decided the buck stops with hungry kids during a pandemic, Politico refused to assign any responsibility, claiming instead that we just can't know the real truth, because look at the aide who came up with a nonsensical accusation that Biden Done It.

Did Republicans block aid to hungry kids during the pandemic? They absolutely did. Politico reports on how they attempted to justify it, but then, as Roberts points out, sacrificed that reporting on the altar of Both Sides:

So McConnell is yanking lunch out of the mouths of 10 million hungry kids and ***even in the news story about him doing it*** responsibility is smeared all over the place, never attached to him. No accountability. Just more dysfunction from "Congress." [Eye-roll emoji]

And I guarantee, this story will pretty much be the last anyone hears of it. 10 million kids will suffer a little more based on Republican sociopathy, and 99.999999% of Americans will never know it. Never know what happened and certainly never know who's to blame.

As Roberts also points out, Democrats can't rely on the media to report even an outrage like this accurately, because "Both-sides disease, the sick politesse with which we treat this shit, makes it impossible for the vast bulk of the public to suss out what's happening." He argues that if Dems had anything even close to the GOP's "communication machine," they could use it to hammer on this message from now until Mitch McConnell is hounded out of polite society:

"Republicans want to cut off hungry kids from free school lunch during a pandemic. We want to feed the kids." Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.

Instead, McConnell wanted to deny a win to Biden on a very popular program that fed hungry children, and Politico was happy to let him get away with it. Gosh, in these hyper-partisan times, why can't Congress ever seem to get anything done? It must be all that political polarization, with wild-eyed radicals on both sides causing gridlock. Sorry, kids. "Congress" failed you.

UPDATE from your Editrix:

Politico's reporter is unhappy with Wonkette and Doktor Zoom and cusses and our misleading ways.

Roberts did indeed apologize to the reporter for inadvertently causing a Twitter pile on — those suck! — and noting that reporter Helena Bottemiller Evich covers policy, which is important and too few people are doing it. Evich also originally broke the story of McConnell being an entire McConnell.

That doesn't make Doktor Zoom's analysis of it "misleading," and Politico really does need to cut the both sides shit. Evich has continued tweeting her displeasure, including with our rude headline which is apparently of a piece with death threats their team has been receiving for days (??), and this summation for why "both sides" is fair and accurate:

We will disagree that that somehow both-sideses it. If McConnell's got an ultimatum or the whole thing blows, as Evich herself first reported, it is in no way "both sides" if one side capitulates to keep the entire government running.

Sorry we said Politico should go fuck itself, sort of, I mean not really, maybe it's a BIT much but ehhh. Nobody should death threat over a both sides story though, that's fucking ridiculous.

Doktor Zoom adds: We were not telling the writers to GFY, and of course death threats are never appropriate. We're simply telling Politico as an institution to go fuck itself, as everyone does, at least once a week.

[Politico / David Roberts on Twitter / Crooks and Liars]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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