Column: What about the youth?

By Matt Simmons

Moderate House republicans took a stand against their own party last week, thwarting a huge $50 billion budget cut proposed by GOP leadership due to concerns surrounding the fact that much of the reductions would come at the expense of social programs that benefit young Americans. These practical Republicans realized that we should be investing in the youth of America, not cutting programs that benefit them.

A large portion of the proposed cuts was to come from Medicaid. I agree with conservatives that Medicaid is in desperate need of reform. Rising costs have been straining the budgets of many states like Illinois, where costs have been increasing at around ten percent a year. However, controlling the costs must be done carefully.

Poor children make 50 percent of Medicaid recipients but receive only 15 percent of the funds. A large cut in federal funding might cause states to raise premiums, which in turn could make it harder for children, who are not responsible for the increasing costs, to receive care. The federal government must cut back on some of the promises made to adults and the elderly under the program. Adults have a chance to work and save money for medical expenses. Children do not.

Aside from Medicaid, there was little merit to the rest of the proposed cuts. The proposed cuts to the federal food stamp program could compromise the nutrition of millions of poor children in America, as well as adults who rely on the program to survive. The Hunger Task Force, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing access to food for every American, estimates that 88 percent of households that receive food stamps live in poverty. And the Food and Nutrition Service of the Department of Agriculture estimates that 51 percent of the recipients are children.

The proposed cuts to government subsidies for private institutions that loan money to students were just as foolish. Conservatives believed that the cuts would be easy due to liberal opposition to private subsidies. But what liberals actually want is for the federal money to be funneled directly into higher education rather than simply cut funding. The proposal would have given students fewer options when it comes to financing higher education, leaving students and their families responsible for a higher percentage of rapidly increasing tuition costs.

    Sign up for our newsletter!

    The most disturbing thing about all of this is that the talks about cuts was preceded by the huge, bipartisan prescription drug plan for Medicare recipients passed in 2003. The program cost at least $350 billion and was supported by many so-called fiscal conservatives, including President Bush. Now, many of the same individuals are trying to cut programs that benefit America’s youth. Is it just me, or is our system dysfunctional when we are willing to spend so much money on senior citizens who had an opportunity to save money but are unwilling to invest in our youth who represent our future?

    This is a problem that transcends the traditional liberal-conservative divide. Liberals are constantly proposing costly programs that benefit older Americans, while conservatives attack programs that benefit children and students and leave programs for the elderly largely untouched. I realize that we must fulfill the promises we have made to workers who have paid into pension funds and Medicare; we have a duty to take care of the people nearing retirement. But we should encourage savings and private investment for people who are not close to retirement.

    While I applaud the attempts of fiscal conservatives to control spending, they targeted the wrong places. Many of the beneficiaries of programs on the cutting board are poor children and youth. Congress should not have created the new Medicare drug program if they knew they were already short on funds. I realize it is easy for me to criticize programs that benefit the elderly, considering I will not see those benefits anytime soon. But that does not change the fact that we are straining our budgets paying for pensions and health care for the elderly, which costs us the ability to invest in our youth.

    Matt Simmons is a senior in LAS. His column appears every Thursday. He can be reached at [email protected].