Kunin: Cutting the Budget

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(HOST)  Commentator and former Vermont Governor Madeleine Kunin is concerned that cutting the federal budget is becoming less about fiscal responsibility and more about political opportunism.

(KUNIN)   Remember when heading for the lifeboats we said, "Women and children first"?

The House-passed Republican budget seems to say the opposite: "Women and children last."

It’s a strange paradox of our times that the very people who tell us that we can’t burden our children with a huge deficit are ready to deprive infants and pregnant mothers of nutritional programs; parents of subsidies for child care; students of some financial aid; and women of access to health programs.  It’s almost as if they believe in the old adage: "Spare the rod and spoil the child."  The cuts are punishing one segment of society.  Americans believe in fairness – if we’re going to experience budget cutting pain, it should be shared equally.

Two recent reports are alarming. One, on 60 Minutes, predicted that child poverty rates may climb from 20% to 25% this year because so many children are homeless and go to bed with hunger-induced stomach aches.

The other report stated that the United States ranks 33rd in the developed world in our infant mortality rate. The wealthiest country in the world should be blushing with shame.  This is NOT the time to cut nutrition programs for pregnant women and babies.

It’s all about eliminating the deficit, the new group of energetic freshman say.  Cuts in these family programs will only have a minor impact on the budget.  But the real target is not the deficit – it’s programs that some groups have wanted to do away with for years. Now is their chance.          

One budget-cutting target is Title X money for Planned Parenthood.  How much are they cutting?  All of it – despite the fact that absolutely no federal money is used to provide abortions.  What is the money used for?  The program has been in effect since 1970. Today it serves more than five million low-income women.  Services include cancer screenings, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and contraception.

In Vermont, there are ten health centers which serve 21,000 patients, half of whom depend on Title X funding.  Planned Parenthood estimates that without access to these services abortions would not decrease, they would increase – precisely the opposite of the budget-cutters intentions.  The same would be true for teenage pregnancies; they would once again be on the rise.

Yes, we have to fix the budget. But no, we cannot do it by placing the heaviest burden on those least capable of carrying it – new mothers and newborn children.  The long-term costs in poor health outcomes and suffering will far outweigh the short-term savings.

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