Nixon declines participation in 'debate' over federal school lunch program
Gov. Jay Nixon declined to enter into a simmering debate over the federal school lunch program -- a debate sparked after U.S. Rep. Todd Akin questioned the federal government’s involvement in the program.
Speaking with reporters yesterday at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia, Akin – a Wildwood Republican who is seeking to unseat U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill – said he wasn’t sure whether the federal government should be involved in administering something like the school lunch program.
KWMU reported that Akin said he wasn’t against school lunches but questioned whether the federal government was the best entity to handle that responsibility.
McCaskill’s campaign quickly condemned the remark, with a spokesman responding in a statement that it “just goes to show how far Todd Akin is out of the mainstream that he would eliminate this program that helps make sure kids have the healthy meals they need to get through the day.”
Nixon was near Northwoods Friday to announce assistance for Girls Incorporated, a nonprofit that provides educational and cultural activities for girls and young women.
Asked about Akin’s comment, the Democratic governor told reporters “one of the great things about being governor is you get to spend a whole lot of time debating with state representative and state senators.”
“We’ve got plenty of diversity of opinion in the Missouri legislature without me debating members of Congress,” Nixon said.
Nixon went onto say that “nutrition makes a big difference for kids, and I’ve been involved with those issues for many years.
“Hungry kids don’t learn,” Nixon continued. “Kids need to be well nourished. …. This organization saw that and under the leadership of the executive director and its board directed resources to have a garden and a kitchen here to make sure those young women involved here not only have good food, but also learn the skills for performance.
“I’ve supported using these programs to make sure that these kids have every tool possible when they’re in our schools so they stand the best chance to learn,” he said.
(Start update) In a statement to the Beacon, Akin said that he "supports school lunches" and it is "a moral responsibility to protect the most vulnerable in our society and as a senator I will always fight to make sure we meet that responsibility."
He continued, though, to say that "we should never close the door to looking at ways to reform and strengthen government, particularly when we face trillion dollar deficits. And this comes down to a fundamental difference between Sen. McCaskill and myself – she believes that Washington knows best and that a bigger federal government is the solution to every problem facing our country. We’ve tried it her way and the result has been a $16 trillion debt, a massive federal bureaucracy and trillion-dollar deficits."
He added, “My view is that we should always look to our states and local communities for new ideas and solutions to create a more effective and efficient government. They are the laboratories of our republic, and not the bureaucrats in Washington," he said. "I think this is Missouri common sense.” (End update)
Akin made his initial remarks when asked about his opposition to the farm bill, an issue that McCaskill has been pushing in a statewide agricultural tour. An Akin spokesman told the Beacon earlier this week that the congressman would prefer to decouple funding for food stamps from other issues within the bill.
Dempsey pushes Nixon on Medicaid
Meanwhile, the lawmaker who may become the leader of Missouri's state Senate next year said he wants Nixon to be more upfront about whether he wants to see Medicaid expanded under the Affordable Care Act.
Under the act, the federal government would cover all the additional costs of insuring adults and families up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level for the first three years. Then Missouri would gradually take over a small percentage of the costs, with the state’s share rising to 10 percent by 2022.
Some Democrats and health-care organizations argue that the expansion would help hundreds of thousands of poorer Missourians. And hospitals have said they would be in trouble without the expansion. Republicans have argued that the expansion could prompt financial havoc down the road.
Nixon told reporters earlier this summer that he will work with the General Assembly on the issue after the election, assuming that he wins re-election. But Senate Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said Nixon needs to be more upfront with voters about how he’d handle the issue.
“I think Dave Spence (Nixon's Republican opponent) has been outspoken at this point on issues like the Medicaid expansion. That’s something that we have a problem with,” said Dempsey in an interview earlier this month. “As I talk and visit with a number of our Republican senator or would-be senators, it’s really that obligation that we’re going to have as a state once the federal funding goes away. And Jay Nixon has been noncommittal on that, and that’s just one of many issues that I think are important to talk to the people of the state of Missouri and define what your priorities are going to be for the next four years.”
Inquired about Dempsey’s comments, Nixon said on Friday that he’s been “very clear” about how to proceed with the issue.
“[When] we’re going to move forward with things of that nature, we’re going to work on the matter with the legislature,” Nixon said. “It’s going to require a joint effort. There are many complicated issues in that zone. I’m committed to working with legislative leaders – as well as other members – to make sure we get the best fit for Missouri. And I’ll do that.”
He added that he wants “to make sure Missouri is as healthy” as it can be and that he “wants to use taxpayer resources as efficiently and effectively as possible.”