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House School Meal Waiver Plan Survives Amendment Attempt

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Updated

Democrats on the U.S. House of Representatives' appropriations committee tried unsuccessfully to kill a plan that would allow some schools to opt out of increased nutrition standards for school meals in the 2014-15 school year. The effort came in the form of a proposed amendment to the chamber's agriculture appropriations bill. The amendment failed to pass the full committee on a 29-22 vote.

The waiver language, included in the budget proposal previously passed by the House agriculture appropriations subcommittee, directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the school lunch and breakfast programs, to create a process that would allow schools to opt out of the heightened meal standards for the next school year if they can demonstrate "a net loss from operating a food service program for a period of at least six months that begins on or after July 1, 2013."

In response to the House proposal, the Senate appropriations committee last week amended its agriculture appropriations bill to address some school meal concerns without providing a method for districts to opt out altogether.

Supporters of the waiver proposal, including the School Nutrition Association, argue that the new nutrition standards, which were created under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, are "too much, too fast" for some districts.

Opponents of waivers, including children's health organizations and the USDA, argue that schools' struggles with implementing new rules should be addressed through the policy-making process, not through congressional intervention.

The waivers still aren't a done deal. The House plan still must win approval from the full chamber, the Senate, and President Obama before it would go into effect. Some lawmakers have said they expect to forge a middle ground compromise between the two plans in a conference committee.

Rep. Sam Farr, a California Democrat who proposed the ammendment that would have killed the waiver plan, reacted to its failure on Twitter. 

Update: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney started his daily briefing by reading a strongly worded statement that said the move to create waivers "replaces the judgment of doctors and nutritionists with the opinions of politicians regarding what is healthy for our kids."

Meanwhile, the School Nutrition Association released a statement calling for further changes to the nutrition standards.

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