Paul Krugman writes in his New York Times column:
House Republicans, in particular, are literally stealing food from the mouths of babes — nutritional aid to pregnant women and very young children is one of the items on their cutting block — so they can pose, falsely, as deficit hawks.
He's echoing President Obama, who highlighted the issue in a press conference this week, accusing Republicans of "cutting infant formula to poor kids."
If I were Sarah Palin, I might call this a blood libel — accusing Republicans of killing babies. But I'm not, so I won't. Instead I will try to shed some light on the situation with some facts. It's true that the Associated Press reported last week that "A key House lawmaker Wednesday proposed a 10 percent cut to a food program for pregnant women and their children." The AP's Andrew Taylor editorialized within the article, "the proposed cuts are deep indeed. The Women, Infants and Children program, which provides food for low-income pregnant women, mothers and young children, would receive a $758 million cut, about 10 percent. It was unclear whether the reductions would force people off of the program."
But what neither the AP nor Professor Krugman nor President Obama mention is that the WIC program at issue has grown, according to the Department of Agriculture's own data, to about $7 billion a year in 2010 from $4 billion a year in 2000. The House Republicans could cut $758 million out of it — "deep indeed," according to the AP — and they'd still be spending more than 50% more than President Clinton did. Professor Krugman and President Obama are always talking about how they want to bring back the tax rates of the Clinton administration for the "rich"; but they sure don't want to go back to the spending levels of the Clinton administration. If they did, it'd solve the federal deficit problem in one fell swoop.
The Cato Institute's downsizinggovernment.org site has more on the WIC program:
Recipients receive vouchers that are exchanged for specific food items, particularly infant formula, at authorized retailers. The retailers redeem the food vouchers for cash at state WIC agencies. The recipients of WIC benefits need not be citizens or permanent residents of the United States.
Remarkably, the WIC program accounts for about half of all infant formula sold in the nation. The program was supposed to be only for low-income families, yet it now provides free formula for many middle-income families that certainly don't need government subsidies.
An even more troubling aspect of WIC is that it encourages parents to feed their babies infant formula rather than breast milk. The share of mothers on WIC who are breastfeeding is substantially lower than that of mothers not using WIC....
Another troubling aspect of WIC is that the program's large subsidies for infant formula appear to be driving up the retail price. The price of formula has risen rapidly since the early 1980s as WIC enrollment has increased. Because recipients are not sensitive to the pricing of WIC food items such as formula, stores can raise prices and receive larger cash redemptions from state agencies.The WIC program drives up the cost of formula for families not on the program as well, and some portion of the taxpayer subsidies for WIC ends up going to the makers of infant formula. This "leakage" of benefits is a common problem in subsidy programs. It is thought, for example, that rising government subsidies for college education have helped spur the rapid inflation in college tuition costs...
Given Michelle Obama's public advocacy of breastfeeding, you'd think that WIC wouldn't necessarily be such a sacred cow on the left. Maybe the House Republicans can get her to testify in favor of the cuts, or at least to talk some sense into Professor Krugman. Until then, the next time someone accuses Republicans of wanting to starve poor children by taking away their infant formula, at least an alternative view of the issue will be readily available.