By Nia-Malika Henderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 13, 2010; 12:18 PM
Michelle Obama can check off a top priority on her to-do list: The child nutrition bill was signed into law by her husband Monday morning, capping months of advocacy by the first lady as part of her efforts to reduce childhood obesity.
Flanked by Cabinet officials, top Democrats and schoolchildren in green and yellow uniforms, President Obama said that "across the country, too many kids don't have access to healthy meals."
"We've seen the connection between what kids eat and how well they perform in school," he said, speaking at Harriet Tubman Elementary School in Northwest Washington. "We need to make sure our kids have the energy and capacity to go toe-to-toe with their peers."
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will expand the number of children in school lunch programs by 115,000, increase the reimbursement rate to school districts for meals by six cents and replace the junk food available outside the cafeteria, such as in vending machines, with more healthful options.
The $4.5 billion expansion of the school lunch program, which feeds 16 million children, gained bipartisan support in the Senate, yet initially stalled in the House before passing mostly along party lines. Republicans balked at the cost and constraints of the bill.
Before supporting the law, liberal Democrats needed assurance from the White House that the $2 billion cut from the food stamp program to fund it would be restored.
"While we may sometimes have our differences, we can all agree that in the United States of America, no child should go to school hungry," Michelle Obama said Monday. "All children should have the basic nutrition they need to learn and grow. . . . Our hopes for their future should drive every decision we make."
The first lady put an early stamp on the bill, lobbying lawmakers to back it. On Monday, the president joked that there would have been consequences if the bill hadn't landed on his desk.
"Had I not been able to get this bill passed, I would be sleeping on the couch," he said.
The first lady, laughing, replied, "Let's just say it got done."