For Those of Us Who Value Health—Federal Spending Bill May Not Have Value


“At least the government didn’t shut down” connotes a pretty low expectation for the passage of the latest federal appropriations bill, but for those of us who care about our health, uttering that phrase might be the only solace we can get.

Robert Pear of the New York Times explains that special interest lobbyists had their riders at the ready and many of them, unfortunately, were accepted. Here are some of the highlights:

In Nutrition

Marion Nestle explains that that school nutrition standards got largely micromanaged by the School Nutrition Association and the Potato lobby:

  • Section 751 grants exemptions to states from the whole grain requirements for school meals . . . (my translation: forget whole grains and recommendations by health experts. They are way too much trouble).

  • Section 752 says that no federal funds may be used to pay the salaries of people doing work “that would require a reduction in the quantity of sodium contained in federally reimbursed meals, foods, and snacks sold in schools”

  • Section 753 says Congress won’t pay the salaries of anybody who tries to “exclude or restrict, the eligibility of any variety of fresh, whole, or cut vegetables (except for vegetables with added sugars, fats, or oils) from being provided under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (no, you can’t keep white potatoes out of the WIC program).

So, more salt and fewer whole grains are now allowed in our school lunches. For more on the role of SNA in nutrition standard lobbying for the appropriations bill, see Allison Aubrey of NPR.

In Agriculture

Bill Lilliston of the IATP (Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy) has a laundry list of ways he sees corporate interests being served in the new bill at the expense of farmers and sound agricultural practices.

  • Cuts $402 million over ten years from the critically important Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)

  • Denies authority to Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) to prevent deceptive, anti-competitive and retaliatory practices against farmers and ranchers.

  • Sets the stage to weaken, and possibly eliminate, rules that require mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for meat and poultry products.

  • Rolls back financial regulation of the highly volatile derivatives market that destabilized markets for farmers and the world’s hungry.

He goes on to explain how the bill also will allow for continued corporate influence over Congress.

Mike Lavender of Environmental Working Group provides commentary on the rollback of funding for the USDA CSP and EQIP programs:

The proposed cuts would slash more than $140 million from two popular and effective conservation programs – the Environmental Quality Incentive Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program. This could increase already significant backlogs in processing applications from conservation-minded farmers just as we close out a year that showcased the devastating impact of poor agricultural practices.”

The Environment

Katie Valentine explains how provisions in the bill limit environmental progress.

  • Preventing Endangered Species Listings—The spending bill would block any federal funds going toward determining whether the Gunnison sage grouse or greater sage grouse—two species native to the western U.S.—are eligible for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

  • Cutting Environmental Protection Agency Funds—Under the bill, the EPA would be allowed a $8.1 billion budget. That’s $60 million less than what the agency got last year,

  • Blocking Regulation of Lead Ammunition—The spending bill includes a provision that would prohibit federal funds going toward regulation of lead in ammunition and fishing.

  • More Coal-Fired Power Plants And Less Renewable Energy Abroad—The spending bill would allow the Ex-Im Bank and OPIC to finance coal-fired power plants abroad, despite the fact that the Ex-Im Bank adopted guidelines last year that prohibited the financing of most coal-fired power plants, unless they used carbon capture technology

  • Preventing Funding To The Green Climate Fund—The bill states that “no funds may be made available for the Green Climate Fund,” an international fund aimed at helping developing nations deal with the impacts of climate change.

  • Prohibiting Regulations On Light Bulb Efficiency—The bill wouldn’t allow the federal government to provide funding to “implement or enforce” standards for light bulb efficiency, a rider that’s been introduced before in spending bills.

In Healthcare

Robert Pear of the New York Times explains that Blue Cross Blue Shield got to keep their tax breaks on their non-profit plans that the Affordable Care Act might have taken away.

Blue Cross is not mentioned by name in the relevant section of the 2015 spending bill, titled “Modification of treatment of certain health organizations.” But the deduction in question is available only to Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, which have been lobbying Congress for a clarification since the Affordable Care Act was signed in 2010.”

Eroding nutrition standards, breaks for Big Ag, Big Food, oil and gas companies, a slew of environmental setbacks and tax breaks for health insurance companies—and that’s just some of the highlights. Read through these articles, do your own sleuthing, and let us know what other frustrating riders and provisions were in this bill. Needless to say, we’ve got our work cut out for us, Wellness Warriors!

PHOTO: via flickr


Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

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