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Breastfeeding Campaign Makes Surprising Allies

Breast pumps will be eligible for tax-deduction

Partisan politics in America has for decades been bickering over women’s wombs. Now the fight extends to our breasts as well.

When Michelle Obama stepped forward to promote breastfeeding, she drew criticism from the usual quarters. Tea Party celebrity Michele Bachmann was quick to critique the First Lady for her support of breastfeeding.

What happened next is more suprising. The New York Times reports that a mix of conservative and liberal allies defended Obama’s pro-breastfeeding stance, while some liberal lawmakers found themselves aligned with Bachmann’s criticism.

At the center of the debate is a new IRS tax break for breastfeeding expenses, particularly the cost of a breast pump. The pumps can cost hundreds of dollars. Earlier this year the IRS refused to include them as a tax-deductible expense, but they’ve now reversed that decision.

Bachmann mistakenly described this as the government buying breast pumps, but that’s not the case. Your breast pump will be treated just like your prescription drugs: you can deduct it if you itemize medical deductions, or you can pay for it out of a health care FSA if you have one.

As the NYT says in their article:

Ms. Bachmann was wrong that Mrs. Obama wants the government to pay for breast pumps; the I.R.S. would simply allow people to deduct breast-feeding expenses if they itemize, or use the pre-tax dollars in their medical savings accounts to pay for pumps.

And the federal government is now one of the biggest buyers of baby formula, through its nutritional programs for women and infant children. So giving a tax break for breast-feeding might actually help reduce government spending, as Ms. Bachmann advocates.

Why would any progressive mama oppose this?  Some progressives said that while they support breastfeeding, they feel there’s enough pressure on working moms already, without laying in a guilt trip about pumping milk. Some women can’t for medical reasons, and some women don’t choose to for personal or professional reasons. It’s possible to see the First Lady’s support of breastfeeding as a case of pro-breastfeeding bullying.

Personally, I think breastfeeding is a huge part of starting kids off on a good nutritional foot, and I’m grateful that Mrs. Obama is stepping up to make this an important part of her campaign.

What do you think? Are you cheering for Michelle Obama or Michele Bachmann?

Photo: planet oleary

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