April 25, 2003

Commentary

Still in the Battle

By Marian Wright Edelman

As our nation wages a war against Iraq and is anxiously preoccupied with terrorism around the world, the Bush Administration and congressional leaders are still waging a radical budget war against children here at home. At the end of March the House and Senate passed key elements of President Bush’s budget plan, which lavishes massive new tax cuts on the rich while putting children in harm’s way by eliminating, dismantling, cutting and freezing essential children’s programs like Head Start and after- school programs. The Senate passed a budget that cuts the Administration’s proposed tax plan in half but still provides $350 billion in new tax cuts, mostly for the rich and at the expense of children and working families. The House passed a budget that makes some of the biggest cuts to children’s programs in history, handing even larger tax breaks to the rich. Then, on Friday, April 11th Congress approved the final fiscal year 2004 concurrent budget resolution (H.Con.Res. 95) by very close margins. It is the first of many steps in the legislative process to enact the tax cuts and the spending cuts proposed by President Bush.

The Administration claims its budget giveaways to the rich will stimulate the economy. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office does not agree: it says the Bush budget and tax plan’s overall impact on the economy is “not obvious” and would probably have a negligible effect on the economy. It also forecasts that the Administration’s irresponsible plan will create a huge deficit over the next decade totaling $1.82 trillion. None of this is news to those who oppose the Administration’s radical budget plan. The Bush Administration and its congressional allies seek to starve the federal government of resources to help children, the poor, seniors, the disabled, and working families—erasing decades of progress.

The battle is far from over. We must keep fighting with all our might to save Head Start, child health, foster care, and education protections for our children. On March 19th, the Children’s Defense Fund and our supporters joined with the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, People for the American Way, Moveon.org, the Fair Taxes for All Coalition, members of over 200 other partner organizations, and citizens all around the country to oppose the President’s budget and tax plan. We expected to have only a few thousand participants, but hundreds of thousands of people, despite imminent war, called, e-mailed and faxed their Senators and Representatives—jamming the Capitol switchboard for hours. You may have been one of them. If so, thank you. Together we were able to send a powerful message. The Senate’s decision to reverse an earlier vote and only give the President half of the tax cut he wanted—still totally unacceptable—surprised many people. And while the House supported the Administration’s full tax cut, the vote was much closer than expected. March 19th did make a difference.

But we still have an uphill fight ahead. The final resolution passed by Congress leaves millions of children in danger. We must keep standing up and speaking out through visits, calls, and e-mails. If you believe children’s urgent needs should be met before millionaires’ desires, please speak up now. Tell your elected officials what you think. Every Wednesday, get 10 friends to call or e-mail their member of Congress and tell them to say “no” to dismantling Head Start and Medicaid and slashing child care and after-school programs.

We must believe that we can save all of our children and then do it! We can transform our nation’s priorities if we truly believe we can. Don’t ever give up insisting that children be protected first—whatever the political or economic weather. Don’t be afraid in these scary times to be a voice in the wilderness for children and the poor. It’s the right and sensible thing to do.

Marian Wright Edelman is President and Founder of the Children’s Defense Fund whose mission is to Leave No Child BehindÒ and to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start, and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.

Letters to the Editor Return to the Frontpage