For Tonight's Debate, Kerry Should Discuss How Bush Policies Harm Children
Tonight's Bush-Kerry debate will focus on domestic policy. Observers, citing poll results, suggest this should benefit Kerry.
Poll results are great, but I think in this case, it's almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. Radio and television talking heads have told us so many times that Americans believe Bush is stronger on Iraq and terrorism, and Kerry is stronger on the economy and social issues -- we're almost conditioned to believe it. Facts? Who needs facts?
A recent Annenberg study found that Americans are more likely to agree with Kerry on five of eight key campaign issues. The problem? The same Americans were unclear whether Bush or Kerry supported a particular issue, and more often than not, they guessed wrong.
So hopefully tonight's debate will be an eye-opener.
I'm hoping Kerry will focus on issues related to children, not merely to gain sympathy points, but to just reveal how decisions by the Bush administration affect millions of children. Simply put, if Kerry offers facts and lets voters decide, I think he'll win on Nov. 2.
POINT ONE: Federal funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program.
Congress failed to act before the Sept. 30 deadline to extend $1.1 billion of federal funds for SCHIP, the program that insures children of the working poor. The unused funds were essentially taken from the states and returned to the U.S. Treasury. This goes against the original 1997 legislation, which says that unused funds are supposed to be reallocated from states with surplus funds to states in need of funds.
The deadline elapsed without any protest from the White House. Not once did the Bush administration request Congress to extend the time states had to use the funds. That decision came over objections from the National Governors Association, and after the administration opposed legislation sponsored in the Senate by Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and in the House by Joe Barton (R-TX) and John Dingell (D-MI).
What has Bush said on the campaign trail? The exact opposite of what he's done:
“America’s children must also have a healthy start in life. In a new term, we will lead an aggressive effort to enroll millions of poor children who are eligible but not signed up for the government’s health insurance programs. We will not allow a lack of attention, or information, to stand between these children and the health care they need. Anyone who wants more details on my agenda can find them online.”
It's a nice statement, but meaningless given recent administration policy.
How far does $1.1 billion go? According to watchdog group Families USA, $1.1 billion would insure 750,000 children.
POINT TWO: More children have become impoverished during Bush's watch.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 800,000 more children became impoverished in 2003, bringing the total to 12.9 million. That's 17.6% of all children.
The increase in impoverished children from 2002 to 2003 followed an increase of 400,000 children from 2001 to 2002.
POINT THREE: States are struggling to maintain Medicaid benefits.
As of July of this year, 52 million people receive Medicaid. Nearly half of those people are children. Rising medicaid costs, combined with reduced state budgets, has led to many states restricting eligibility or reducing benefits.
To the Bush administration's credit, providing $20 billion of temporary fiscal relief last year. But the relief expired on June 30, and the administration made no effort to renew it.
A Kaiser Family Foundation study reports: "When Medicaid directors were asked whether pressures on their Medicaid programs were growing, remaining constant, or subsiding, 39 states responded that pressures were growing and 12 felt the pressure would remain constant, but, in many cases, intense. The federal government supplied fiscal relief in FY2004 and that one-time jump in the federal share of Medicaid funding helped maintain eligibility levels (funds were promised only if states did not cut back eligibility in FY2004), but the fiscal relief expired on June 30th of this year. States are now faced with not only budgeting funds for a growing program, but also making up for the drop in the federal matching funds."
POINT FOUR: Leading pediatricians have condemned Bush Administration policy.
On Sept. 29, thirty-six of the nation's top pediatricians, including six past presidents of the American Academy of Pediatrics, released a joint statement harshly criticizing Bush policy.
The statement in part read: "The Bush Administration's policies are moving us away from effective and longstanding federal commitments that improved the health of children, commitments proudly initiated and supported by previous Republican and Democratic presidents. If not reversed, these ill-advised tax and budget policies will erode decades of hard-won health gains for children, while still leaving unaddressed such critical problems as child abuse, mental health, and alcohol and other drug abuse ... We embrace Senator Kerry's straightforward goal: every child, indeed every American, should have the same affordable health care that is available to every member of Congress and senior government official. Our children and our families deserve no less a commitment from their next President."
Author Dr. T. Berry Brazelton said: "We know that SCHIP, AFDC for underprivileged families, child care, Early Head Start and Head Start work for children, but these programs aren't being adequately funded. We need to ask ourselves: What are we doing to the next generation if we don't back them up now? A recent report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showed that children in the middle don't get preventative health -- and one out of seven of them has a preventable disease. We can't afford that economically as a nation and the families certainly can't afford it. We've got to think about children and families in this country first."