North Dakota State Sen. Mike Wobbema began his argument against providing free school lunches to the children of his state by saying, “I’ll be the ogre in the room,” and it only went downhill from there. By the end of Mr. Wobbema’s one-minute speech, most of humanity would have downgraded him to ghoul, demon, or maybe an ogre donkey demon ghoul.
During the debate to pass a $6 million budget to cover the cost of school lunches for low-income students in the Roughrider State, Mr. Wobbema stood up and explained that starving children not only didn’t exist, but if they did, it was the parents’ fault—but he was also pretty insistent that kids aren’t starving, anyway. Wobbema got here by first saying that the federal government provides some food assistance (the kind that Republicans like Wobbema are constantly reducing and threatening to take away), and that, while the federal government can print money, North Dakota cannot.
“We talk about personal responsibility as one of the major principles that the Republican Party stands on.” Please, go on. “Yes, I can understand kids going hungry, but is that really the problem of the school district? Is that the problem of the state of North Dakota? It's really the problem of parents being negligent with their kids.” Please, sir, would you like to dig a deeper hole?
And dig he did.
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Wobbema pivoted from his parental negligence bootstrap rap to saying there was no need for food assistance because … there was no need “If their kids are choosing to eat in the first place—which is entirely the problem that could be existing here.” Did you get that? So once again: It’s the parents' fault that kids are going hungry. But kids aren’t going hungry, so no worries, it’s just the parents' fault that paying for school lunches is out of reach for the parents of many American school-age children.
House Bill 1491 was voted down by North Dakota’s “Republican-dominated Senate” 23-24. Other Republicans like state sen. Janne Myrdal told the Bismarck Tribune that she voted against the bill because “this is a personal responsibility issue and not a starvation issue of children.” So, it turns out Mr. Wobbema’s “I’m a little ogre short and stout” speech was just exactly what many of his ghoulish fellow Republican legislators were thinking.
However, not all Republicans voted against the bill to feed kids. Sen. Michelle Axtman voted in support of the bill and did this diplomatic dance when asked about the rest of her conservative state senators: “I understand the personal responsibility argument; however, a 9-year-old can’t get a job and can’t pay (for) their own school lunches.”
The bill would have earmarked $6 million to help feed kids whose households were making very little money. The $6 million was the Republican compromise from the Democratic-proposed $90 million that would have been used to provide free lunches for all children.
It’s not clear how the looming Republican shutdown of our government over the legendary “debt ceiling” will affect school lunches, but as always, the children will be harmed first. That’s the Republican way.
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