Nancy-Ann DeParle, the whip-smart and sometimes caustic White House deputy chief of staff, picked up The Wall Street Journal one summer day in 2010 and got an unwelcome shock. The Food and Drug Administration was proposing as part of the new health care law to require that movie theaters post calorie counts for popcorn — and this was the first she had heard of it.
In the F.D.A.’s view, the law called for moviegoers to know that many a buttery bucket of popcorn had more calories than two Big Macs, but Ms. DeParle, President Obama’s chief health adviser, thought the requirement was unnecessary and would probably be lampooned on Fox News as an especially silly example of the government intrusions that conservatives often mocked as the nanny state.
Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, the F.D.A. commissioner appointed by Mr. Obama, soon heard about the White House’s displeasure and called Ms. DeParle at home one evening, people with knowledge of the call confirmed. The women had a decidedly chilly conversation. Within days, the F.D.A., an agency charged with protecting public health, backed down and dropped the notion of calorie counts for foods served in movie theaters and on airplanes.
Similar tussles have erupted between top administration officials and the F.D.A. over issues from the regulation of sunscreens and asthma inhalers to the enforcement of an agency decision on a drug to prevent premature births.