Monday, July 05, 2010

MN-02 : Kline - Penny UnWise, Pounds Foolish

Adage : "If you're not part of the solution, you must be part of the problem."

Major General Paul Monroe was called to testify before John Kline (R-MN-02) and the House Education and Labor Committee last week.
Major General Monroe was testifying on behalf of over 130 other retired generals, admirals and senior military leaders in calling on Congress to address an issue that “threatens to diminish our military strength and put our national security interests at risk.
In very compelling testimony, the situation was outlined :
--- At least 9 million young adults, or 27 percent of all young Americans ages 17 to 24, are too overweight to enlist. Since 1995, the proportion of candidates who failed their physical exams due to weight problems increased by a staggering 70 percent.
-- Every year, the military discharges over 1,200 first-term enlistees before their contracts are up because of weight problems; the military must then recruit and train their replacements at a cost of $50,000 for each man or woman, thus spending more than $60 million a year.
-- The journal Health Affairs reports that 80 percent of children who were overweight at ages 10-15 were obese at age 25.

Supporting these comments, former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Army Generals John M. Shalikashvili and Hugh Shelton wrote : “Our school districts need the resources to offer our children more vegetables, fruits and whole grains as well as products with less sugar, sodium, fat and calories in school cafeterias and vending machines. Yes, this will mean increasing funding for child nutrition programs. But with our nation spending at least $75 billion a year on medical expenses related to obesity, we think these steps will pay off over the long term.”

The legislation in question is H.R.5504, the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act which is being crafted by Mr. Kline’s committee with Representative Todd Russell Platts (R-PA), ranking Member on the Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities stating : “Given the serious fiscal challenges facing our country, we must ensure that we devote our limited resources to our nation's most urgent priorities. Providing nutritious meals and improving health standards for our nation's children, especially those most in need, are such priorities. I am pleased to join with Chairman George Miller and Chairwoman Carolyn McCarthy in sponsoring this important legislation."

However, Mr. Kline statement is less than accepting of the military’s plea : “We stand ready on this side of the aisle to reauthorize the programs and improve their effectiveness and efficiency.
What has given us pause, however, is the $8 billion price tag attached to this bill.

But I hope we do not allow an important discussion about nutritional science and wellness policy reporting to detract from our larger obligation to prevent hunger and improve child nutrition responsibly.”
Mr. Kline is once again offering lip service … his job is to offer solutions … but instead he’s being an obstructionist.

First, this is not a free lunch … it will cost money … as it did when it was created as the National School Lunch Act of 1946. Then it was passed as a matter of national security – the military’s concern then was that malnourishment would render American youth unfit to defend the nation.
Mr. Kline’s using the $8 billion price tag does not acknowledge that it is actually over a ten year period, so that is $800 million a year. If $75 billion is spent on medical expenses related to obesity, then spending less than a billion should be a good preventative …sorta wisely spending a Penny today so that a Pound will not be needed tomorrow.

But if the Mr. Kline wants to find $800 million to offset it that should not really be a problem.
Here’s some suggestions.
--- Reduce payments in the Conservation Reserve Program or CRP. Few people outside of the farm belt have heard of this program, but for 25 years, CRP has been the backbone of the government’s welfare system for farmers. The program pays agriculture producers to take highly erosion-able lands out of production and plant it to some kind of cover vegetation—usually grass. The program currently covers 36 million acres or about 8 percent of all cropland.
Farmers elect to enroll in the program which pays a rental fee that averages about $50 an acre. Farmers typically sign 10 year contracts promising not to farm or even graze such lands. In 2007 the federal government paid $1.9 billion dollars to farmers and ranchers under this program -- something they should be doing anyway—which is to avoid farming highly erodible lands.

--- As Brian M. Riedl, of the Heritage Foundation wrote : “Lawmakers who are serious about fiscal restraint should consider farm subsidies one of the most justifiable places to find savings. These corporate welfare programs enrich agribusinesses and other non-farmers at the expense of family farmers, the farm economy, and taxpayers.”
Eligibility for farm subsidies is determined by crop, not by income or poverty standards. A glance at those who received farm subsidies in 2002 shows that many of them do not need federal dollars. Farm program benefits are highly concentrated in the hands of a small minority of subsidized individuals and operations, with the top 1 percent of beneficiaries claiming 17 percent of the crop subsidy benefits between 2003 and 2005. Twelve Fortune 500 companies received farm subsidies in 2002. John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance's $2.3 million farm subsidy payment was by far the largest among these companies. The farm subsidies granted to these Fortune 500 companies since 1995 are--on average--70 times larger than those granted to the median farmer.
IF you need details of this program, Michele Bachmann (R-MN-06), Tom Latham (R-IA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) can probably give you personal stories ... since they have received subsidies in the past.

--- Of course, if you don’t want to impact Ag programs, there is always the earmarks" that Congress has requested (i.e. F-18, F-22, C-17, etc.) but Pentagon has not requested … Tom Coburn (R-OK) wrote : Not counting the spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the “base” Pentagon budget has increased from $407 billion in 2001 to $553 billion for 2011 in inflation-adjusted dollars, according to the newest US defense budget data. Over the past decade, this means a cumulative total increase of almost $1 Trillion for the base DOD budget.

Why highlight Ag and military programs for possible cuts … because Mr. Faux Fiscal Conservative, John Kline voted for the Farm Bill and Republican-sponsored “earmarks”.
“Stop the Pork” is an effective campaign slogan, but Mr. Kline’s votes do not support his rhetoric.

Mr. Kline, the military says Obesity is a national security concern … Republicans recognize it … it’s time for YOU to work for solutions instead of being the obstructionist problem. It's time to quit hiding behind this faux fiscal conservative image ... it's time to invest wisely for America's future.