Democratic Underground

Who Will Save The Children?

September 10, 2004
By Mark Sullivan

I must admit I was somewhat startled when White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card made the comment to reporters that George W. Bush "sees America as we think of a 10-year-old child." The Kerry campaign was right to quickly condemn this characterization as "condescending," with spokesman Phil Singer following it up by saying that "any parent that ran a household the way that George W. Bush runs the country would find themselves in bankruptcy court on the way to family court."

If Andrew Card is to be believed, and Bush is really going to take on the role as the "Father of Our Country," then I figured I'd better find out what was in store for me, a newly-christened "Child of Our Country." And what better way to find that out then by looking at what Bush has done for those in this country who already were children before this recent declaration.

As I'm sure Bush knows as well as anyone, the United States is first in Gross Domestic Product; first in the number of millionaires and billionaires; first in health technology; first in military technology; first in military exports; and first in defense expenditures.

But we're also 14th in our efforts to lift children out of poverty. We're 16th in low birth weight rates; 18th in the percent of children in poverty; 18th in the percent of 15 year olds falling below international education benchmarks; 23rd in infant mortality; and dead last in protecting our children against gun violence.

With all of those depressing statistics, you'd think Dubya would be working extra hard to make sure that he would fulfill his campaign promises so that there would be "No Child Left Behind." Unfortunately for George, but most unfortunately for young Americans, the Bush Administration has systematically left millions of children behind through their uneven and flat out uncaring policies (or lack thereof).

The most recent example of children suffering under this administration comes straight from the United States Census Bureau, who just last month reported that 700,000 additional children fell into poverty in 2003. This is on top of the 546,000 children who joined the poverty ranks in Bush's first two years in office. Ninety percent of those 546,000 were either black or Latino.

This brings the total number of poverty-stricken children in America, the richest country the world has ever seen, to a staggering 12.8 million. Those numbers alone are enough to make anyone angry, but they are merely the beginning of the long list of Bush's attacks on our nation's future.

In his 2005 budget, Mr. Bush proposed a funding freeze for the Child Care and Development Block Grant. This grant gives federal dollars to states in order to provide for child care assistance. But as a result of this freeze, White House analysts predict that by 2009, the number of children receiving assistance will drop by 200,000. A study by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities shows that number to be closer to 365,000. This is all in addition to the approximately 100,000 children who lost coverage in 2003, and the estimated 550,000 children who remain on waiting lists across the country.

As if that weren't enough, the 2005 budget also froze funding for Head Start, and called for a shift from federal to state programs, which have been shown to have less accountability and lower quality standards. The budget also freezes enrollment, a move that prevents 40 percent of those eligible for Head Start and 97 percent of those eligible for Early Head Start from ever enrolling.

In the words of Bush himself, "Is our children learning?" With continued cuts like these, many will never have a chance. It also goes without saying that without child care assistance or Head Start, many children will be forced to be left home alone while their parents are at work.

Even children still in the womb aren't safe from this administration. For a president who never fails to remind us of his commitment to protecting the unborn, Bush still has an abysmal record when it comes to protecting those same unborn children.

Said record comes in the form of the EPA removing mercury emissions from environmental regulations, most notably the Clean Air Act. This is in spite of the fact that in December of 2000, the EPA concluded that mercury emissions are a public health menace. Studies have shown that these same mercury emissions that Bush wants to allow can cause significant developmental effects on fetuses.

And even if that fetus does survive poisoning by mercury, they still have a whole new environmental problem to worry about: dirty air. Because of Bush forcing the EPA to relax the standards for factories that dump chemicals into our air, a study of just 51 power plants subjected to review found that the toxins put out by these plants caused the premature deaths of 5,500 to 9,000 people each year. These 51 plants are also responsible for as many as 170,000 asthma attacks annually. Children and the elderly are disproportionately affected as a result of their weaker immune systems.

I'd like to take a minute to congratulate those who have the stomach or the willpower to have gotten this far without lashing out in anger and throwing their computer out a window. I wish that I didn't have to write any of this, but it especially saddens me to say that I am not finished. It gets worse.

Enter H.R. 4359, the Child Credit Preservation and Expansion Act. While many people support increasing the child tax credit (myself included), one quick glance at the numbers shows that this is nothing more than another example of stealing from the taxpayer to line the pockets of the wealthiest of Americans.

According to Children's Defense Fund President and Founder Marian Wright Edelman, "under this misguided bill, a family with a parent who works full time at minimum wage would not be able to get a dime of the child tax credit, while a wealthy family making $250,000 a year would receive a giveaway of thousands of dollars."

She's not making this up. H.R. 4359 dramatically increased the income limits that determine eligibility for the child tax credit. Under this bill, the income limit for married couples who could receive the full $1,000 credit was raised by $140,000 (up from $110,000). Even families who earn as much as $309,000 would be able to obtain a partial credit.

Similar to the rest of the Bush tax cuts, low income families receive little to no credit. This is all on top of the fact that this is a $65 billion tax cut that is not paid for, thus increasing our deficit (which will reach a record $422 billion this year) and increasing the burden on future generations.

Finally, the most obvious and highly visible of Bush's attack on children comes in the form of his highly touted, ironically named "No Child Left Behind Act." For those who've been living under a rock the past three and a half years, the NCLB Act calls for tougher standards and more accountability in public schools (and I thought Republicans were for smaller government?).

While the idea behind the bill is not entirely a bad thing, Bush seems to have forgotten to fully fund the program, leaving a $33.2 billion hole, the brunt of which affects Title I programs for low income children, funding for which fell short by $22.4 billion. Bush even proposed cutting $200 million in educational assistance to children in the military, despite promising to increase funding by $310 million.

In a speech in New Mexico in January of 2004, Bush stated that he's "incredibly optimistic about our nation's future." And I suppose that if you're rich, white, and Republican, you have every reason to be optimistic right along with him.

But if you're a child who was born into poverty with birth defects thanks to mercury emissions, contracted asthma due to our dirty air, sat at home unsupervised because your parents were unable to enroll you in Head Start or any sort of child care program, and then attended a school with a crumbling foundation, outdated textbooks, and supplies purchased out of your teacher's pocket, then the only thing George Bush has given you to be optimistic about is a future saddled with debt.

George Bush is wrong on the environment, wrong on child care, wrong on education, and wrong on our future. He recently said that he was very optimistic about his chances in the upcoming election. On November 2nd, let us prove him wrong for the last time.

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