What is most just and important to America's future? Health coverage for 1.6 million children or tax breaks for 289,000 of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans?
Congress will meet in December to vote on a budget bill that will greatly hurt the poor and children, and on tax bills that will greatly benefit the wealthiest Americans. The Senate budget bill would cut $39 billion, while the House budget bill would cut $50 billion, primarily from programs for low-income children and families — including Medicaid, foster care, child support, child care, food stamps and student loans. The richest 1 percent of U.S. taxpayers will reap the majority of the tax breaks from the capital gains and dividend tax cuts included in the House tax bill.
Nine million American children are uninsured. Almost 90 percent of them live in households where someone works. An estimated 5½ million of these children are eligible for Medicaid's Children's Health Insurance Program but lack health coverage because of poor state outreach and bureaucratic barriers.
The 25 million children who depend on Medicaid's health lifeline are the most cost-effective beneficiaries of the program, constituting almost half of Medicaid's enrollment but less than 20 percent of its costs. We know that prevention and early intervention pays: Every dollar we spend vaccinating children against measles, mumps and rubella saves $16 in medical costs to treat those illnesses.
I believe that common sense, budget sense and compassion for the vulnerable should make children the last group any governor, representative, senator or president truly concerned about escalating health care costs should be cutting or undermining. Yet that is precisely what many of our nation's governors are doing in their own states and urging Congress to do in the morally obscene and fiscally irresponsible House budget bill.
The National Governors Association proposals, incorporated in the callous House budget bill, would allow states "flexibility" to cut Medicaid coverage for more than 6 million children by imposing premiums and cost sharing for the first time in the children's portion of Medicaid. It would eliminate Medicaid's guarantee of treatment for children under the comprehensive, child-appropriate Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment Program. These draconian cuts and structural changes would radically alter the Medicaid program for children at a time when we should be insuring every child.
These shortsighted actions are a frontal assault on still inadequate health coverage for children. We know that premium and co-payment requirements for parents reduce child health coverage. We know that wages have stagnated or declined for eight consecutive years. We know that child poverty has increased for four consecutive years. We know that the loss of employer-based health coverage is soaring.
And we know that victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita scattered across America are still being denied Disaster Relief Medicaid health care because the Bush administration and Congress have stonewalled for three months. Isn't it time to challenge leaders who continue to make choices that hurt children and the poor?
I hope every person in America who believes in liberty and justice will rise up and say no to budget cuts that hurt the weak and ask children — our poorest group of Americans — and the working poor to bear the burden of new tax cuts to the rich. No to both should be every American's demand.
Marian Wright Edelman is founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund.