Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, chair of the U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee, delivers her opening statement during a committee hearing on June 6, 2023. (Screenshot from committee livestream)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee on Tuesday passed several bills that are a rebuke of not only the Biden administration’s policies on immigration, child nutrition and healthcare, but regulations from the Obama era.
The committee passed a resolution that condemns the use of public schools to shelter undocumented people, a bill that would require whole milk made available in public schools and two bills that would make changes to employer provided health insurance.
The bills are likely dead on arrival in the Senate, where Democrats have a slim majority.
“The safety and education of our school children should be paramount,” Republican Chair of the committee Virginia Foxx of North Carolina said. “This Democrat public facility asylum policy is unsafe and anti-education.”
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Democrats argued that several of the bills were outside the scope of the committee, including H. Res. 461, which deals with immigration policy and H.R. 1147, which would be a standalone child nutrition bill that goes around Congress’s process of making changes to statutes under the child nutrition reauthorization.
The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, said the bills the committee passed fuel culture wars and undermine the Affordable Care Act, sometimes called Obamacare.
“Ultimately, these four bills fall short of our promise to protect students, strengthen child nutrition, and ensure access to affordable, quality health coverage,” Scott said. “If we are serious about fulfilling our promise of helping students, we can work together to end gun violence in schools.”
Public schools as shelters
The resolution, introduced by Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa, specifically calls out New York City. In May, the city temporarily converted several current and former school gyms to house about 300 migrants.
The resolution also criticizes the Biden administration for ending a pandemic-era immigration restriction known as Title 42 that immediately expelled migrants due to the COVID-19 public health emergency. Republicans said in the resolution that using public schools to house migrants takes away resources and endangers students.
Scott said public schools have a long history of being used as emergency shelters, particularly when there is a natural disaster. He added that FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security lists schools, places of worship and community centers as designated shelters in emergencies.
“This resolution is another example of the majority creating a platform for their culture war,” Scott said. “This resolution provides the majority an opportunity to discuss immigration policy, which is not in the jurisdiction of the committee.”
Democratic Rep. Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon, said the resolution was offensive, especially the insinuation that housing migrants in school facilities posed a risk to students.
“It’s factually and morally wrong to operate on the assumption that an asylum seeker or migrant, typically people of color, are dangerous,” she said. “A resolution based on that premise and endangers people in our own communities who have faced spikes and hate crimes and racially motivated violence.”
An amendment by Republican Rep. Bob Good of Virginia was introduced to strip federal funding from any public institutions that shelter non-citizens.
“If your city is going to illegally harbor aliens,” he said, “you should not get taxpayer dollars to bail you out for the costs and the problems that inevitably ensue.”
Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington took issue with Good’s characterization of migrants, arguing the phrasing that immigrants are “invading” has white supremacist overtones.
“I think it’s very important to understand that words have meaning,” she said. “The person who issued a racist manifesto, right before he went on a deadly mass shooting spree in El Paso, specifically used the words ‘immigrant invasion.’ So I would respectfully urge my colleagues on the other side to not use words like that, because whether they intend them or not to be utilized in violent ways, they are utilized in that way.”
The resolution passed by a vote of 22-16, and the amendment from Good passed by a vote of 20-16.
Republican Rep. Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania, put forward his bill to include whole milk as an option for students, who he said have been denied whole milk under guidelines set during the Obama administration.
“Out-of-touch federal regulations have imposed dietary restrictions on the types of milk that students have access to in school meals,” said Thompson, who chairs the U.S. House Agriculture Committee.
He criticized a proposed rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that offers two options for milk.
The first would limit flavored milk to high school students and the second would maintain the current standard, which “allows all schools to offer fat-free and low-fat milk, flavored and unflavored, at school lunch and breakfast.”
Democratic Rep. Jahana Hayes of Connecticut gave her support to the bill because it doesn’t require students to drink whole milk, but gives them another option.
“We can have as many statistics, as much data on what kids need as dietary dairy intake, but if they’re not drinking it, then it’s all for naught,” she said. “I also think it’s very important to note that this is just an option. It’s not like every milk choice is going to be replaced with whole milk.”
Scott said the bill is not something Congress should be discussing, but health professionals should make those determinations.
“I have insisted that the decision on this be made not by politicians in the legislative branch; but by experts who know what they’re doing and can review the science, come forth and make the right decision based on science,” he said.
The bill passed out of committee with a 26-13 bipartisan vote.
The bill, H.R. 2813, introduced by Good, would amend the Internal Revenue Code to exclude stop-loss insurance from the definition of health care insurance.
The bill would override state laws that have set tighter regulations for stop-loss insurance, which allows business, or self-insured employers, to set a cap on employee medical bills or catastrophic claims.
“Some state laws unfairly limit small businesses from accessing the self-insured market based solely on the size of their operations,” Good said. “Small employers should have the right to access self-insured plans in the same way that large employers do.”
Scott said the bill would undermine the Affordable Care Act because certain consumer protections required in the ACA would not be applied to stop-loss insurance, such as emergency services, mental health services and maternal newborn care.
The bill passed out of committee by a vote of 24-18.
The other bill, H.R. 2868, introduced by Republican Tim Walberg of Michigan, would amend the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 “to clarify the treatment of certain association health plans,” which are health insurance plans that are tailed for people with a “commonality of interest.”
“Workers and small businesses deserve better health care,” Walberg said. “This innovative bill cuts health care insurance costs (and) evens the playing field.”
Scott said the bill would undercut a key principle in Obamacare that provides Americans with healthcare coverage at the relative same cost, regardless of pre-existing conditions.
“Associations can charge employers with workers that cost more to cover such as women, older people, people with chronic illnesses and pre-existing conditions and people with disabilities and charge them more,” Scott said.
That bill passed with a vote of 23-18.
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