Some general awkwardness occurred during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Tuesday as a few uncomfortable lawmakers delved into the issue of breastfeeding, suckling, and even the advisability of using plug-in breast pumps in cars.
Debating an amendment from Oregon's Sen. Jeff Merkley, which would assist nursing mothers by providing them with adequate break times to nurse their child for up to a year after birth, two Republicans on the committee sought admirably to find the right words in registering their support.
Sen. Tom Coburn, a doctor: "I'm hardly ever wanting the government to interfere, but this is one of the places where I think since we already interfere in the workplace anywhere else, we ought to at least make it a wonderful place for women who can continue to suckle their children in a way that you know pumping, you know pumping and feeding is just as nutritious for the children"
Sen. Mike Enzi: "My wife breastfed two children and now my grandkids are going through that process and uh, I learned a few things about it. I still don't know much and probably don't want to know a whole lot more. For instance, learning that there is a plug-in in the car for breast pumps. I'm trying to imagine driving down the highway with that..."
The whole thing was innocent enough, with Merkley smiling at Enzi when the topic switched to his grandchildren and the committee laughing at the car line. In the end, both Coburn and Enzi would vote for the amendment, which would passed the committee by unanimous vote.
As for the substance of the matter, Merkley's amendment actual is big news. Allowing mothers more freedom breastfeed longer after giving birth has obvious health benefits for the children. While Congress debates how to balance health care reform and costs, Merkley's amendment also could have economic ripples. According to the press release from the Oregon Democrat's office comes this statistic: "A recent study by the United Breastfeeding Committee found that if half of the babies in the U.S. were exclusively breastfed for six months, we would realize potential savings of up to $14 billion a year in health care costs for childhood illnesses."