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Message Randolph Holhut
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Just in time for Thanksgiving, the Republican controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted to trim $50 billion over 10 years out of the federal budget through cutbacks in food stamps, Medicaid and student loans.
At least the House had the good political sense to hold off on a planned vote on $57 billion in cuts in dividend and estate taxes for the rich before they left for their holiday recess.
The public relations disaster that would have ensued would have been embarrassing -- that is, if the House Republicans are capable of feeling embarrassed. Recent history suggests otherwise.
The Republican controlled U.S. Senate has proposed $35 billion in budget cuts, but has decided for now to leave the food stamp program alone. After the Thanksgiving break, the House and Senate will begin work on a compromise spending plan.
While the need to reduce the federal budget deficit is undeniable, the idea of cutting funds for the poor to give more tax breaks for the rich is reprehensible.
The Republicans should be ashamed of themselves.
Instead of cutting food stamps and Medicaid in a feeble and dishonest attempt at fiscal austerity, how about cutting back on the war in Iraq instead?
As of this week, the war has cost this nation nearly $221 billion. The current cost of the war is $5 billion a month. Every month that passes with American troops in Iraq means less money for pressing social needs at home.
But let us leave that argument aside for now, and focus on the problem of more and more people who are hungry and a government that is providing less assistance to those in need.
Here where I live, in a reasonably progressive and prosperous state, there is an astounding amount of hunger. According to the Vermont Campaign Against Childhood Hunger (VAACH), about 40,000 Vermonters now receive food stamps and another 45,000 are eligible but have not yet applied. Forty percent of the state's food stamp recipients are children.
These are the people who would be targeted to help pay for the war in Iraq and tax cuts for the rich.
According to the VAACH, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has found that Vermont has had a 100 percent increase in childhood hunger between 2002 and 2004 -- the biggest increase of any state in the country.
If it's this bad in Vermont, just imagine what it must be like in the really poor regions of this nation.
Nationwide, the USDA found that 38.2 million Americans -- including more than 13 million children -- lived in households that were "food insecure," meaning that people that are in so much economic distress that they are either running out of food, skipping meals or reducing the quality of the food that is being eaten.
Having enough food for an active, healthy life is a fundamental human need. Yet there are millions of households in the world's richest country that can't count on seeing three decent meals each day.
As of August, there are about 25.8 million people receiving food stamps, or nearly nine million more people than in August 2000. The proposed House cuts would eliminate more than 220,000 people from the food stamp program.
The need for food stamps is growing. To propose cutting the program at a time such as this is bad enough. To do so to fund tax cuts for the rich and pay for a needless war in Iraq is outrageous.
Fortunately, Vermont's Congressional delegation opposes this plan. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who successfully fought to strip the food stamps cuts from the Senate's budget plan, will be on the House/Senate conference committee that will negotiate a compromise bill.
It's the other 49 states I'm worried about.
I hope every member of Congress is getting an earful this week from their constituents about stealing from the poor to give to the rich. I hope people let them know that this reverse-Robin Hood nonsense isn't going to win them any votes come next November. I hope the members of the House and Senate who voted for this come back to Washington feeling ashamed of themselves.
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Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at
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