Tomorrow, our state House of Representatives will debate a budget worse than the worst one we imagined. I guess $ 400 million for Medicaid is no more impossible than $ 425 million—we were already at a fat-free budget before these cuts began.
Dr. Don Williamson is being straight with us. Federal rules prevent us from cutting most parts of the program. He didn’t pull this out of the air for drama—he is just telling the truth. We would lose all adult pharmacy. This would render the salvaging of Mental Health meaningless. What good is it to let people with schizophrenia see the doctor but not give them medicine? It would also mean pregnant women, who only get Medicaid for the brief duration of pregnancy, would not be able to get medicine for things like pregnancy-induced hypertension and gestational diabetes, thus putting their lives and their babies’ lives at risk.
We would lose hospice. This would, ironically, increase the cost of dying. People who had wanted to die at home with their families would not be able to get the pain medication and medical support needed. They would go to the hospital instead. And most dramatically, we would be forced to stop dialysis. As Dr. Williamson said, dialysis patients would die within two weeks. Do we really want our children to see us behave so?
Even after all that, we would still have to cut payments to doctors dramatically. We would still lose pediatricians who could no longer pay for rent, staff and supplies.
Dr. Bentley, our Governor, said the proposed budget was irresponsible. I agree. What is he willing to do to prevent it? His initial budget required money to be taken from education, also already underfunded, and made cuts to the Department of Mental Health. This weekend I read an interview in which he once again implied he might want the legislature to override his veto of any new tax. He explained it by saying the voters of Alabama no longer trust the government when it says we need more money and that we, the voters, believed it was important to re-examine our funding priorities periodically. He said if we weren’t willing to cut now, we never would be, as if we need to prove that to ourselves. He sounded (my friends tell me I’m being overly optimistic) like he was saying he wanted US to “get it”—to send our state lawmakers a clear message—clear enough to make them override his veto—that we have changed our minds and are no longer willing to drown our children and mentally ill in the bathtub along with the government.
In a way, he is right. Unless we Alabamians, as a people, unite in deciding we value our children and truly understand that the fates of the children of the poor and the children of the rich are intertwined, this kind of budget slashing will be up anew every year and could get worse with every election cycle. I saw in a recent poll that most of us think the state could cut spending without a bad outcome. That means we have work to do in our communities, talking to each other, not just calling Montgomery.
On the one hand, I want to believe Governor Bentley is correct—that if we do the right thing now, we will own this budget. That it could change us at a deep enough level to last at least a few years.
On the other hand, I do not agree it is safe to risk the lives of our children in a game of chicken. I set up a Facebook Group last week to get the word out—I made a rule that we would all belong to the “Children’s Party” and avoid partisan criticisms. You would think everyone could join the Children’s Party. Indeed, I still believe most of us in this state and enough of our lawmakers can, not just for brownie points but because at their core, they know it is right. But even a Children’s Party is not without enemies. It is far too dangerous to let the bodies of our children dangle in their hands.
Our Governor and several legislators have signed a no new tax pledge. I don’t know if they all realized what that would require of them. If they are going to do the right thing for children, they must agree to be adults themselves. Being adults means sometimes they have to admit they have been wrong. If they are not just adults but also leaders, it means sometimes they have to be the ones to stand up and show us the right path. Even when it is hard, even when it gives them heartburn, even when they fear for their jobs. If our leaders can’t do that for us, they have no business in Montgomery.
Fellow Alabamians, we also have work to do. This problem is too big for one party to solve. I’m going to pick on the progressives first, since I’m one. Part of the reason we have lost strength is that we haven’t been willing to see the importance of some conservative values. We can’t be a state for children without valuing reasonable security and safety from crime. We can’t go into debt they will have to pay later, without a very good reason. We don’t raise our children by giving them everything they ask for, like sugary cereal for breakfast—we have to understand that in the same way, safety nets can go too far and enable folks to hurt themselves. We have to stop punishing the children of conservatives for their parents’ decisions, such as by dropping opposition to homeschoolers playing public school sports and looking for other ways to protect our school funding.
Most importantly, if our current leaders make an attempt to go in the right direction, don’t beat them down with snarky comments and say they don’t mean it. Give them a chance to be good. When adults go after each other, children are the ones who suffer.
Conservatives, we need you and your children too. We need you to add a measure of care to your values of fairness, justice, liberty and personal responsibility. You are the ballast that keeps liberals from overdoing it, but that ballast will fail without the strength of compassion. Wherever the actions of adults make you justifiably angry, remember that their children are not to blame and do not deserve to be punished. Remember to do as much for living children as you do to defend the unborn. We need you to understand that you can’t pull the rug out from under those you see as irresponsible without hurting yourselves as well.
Let us ask each other to take a minute this morning to read and sign the Children’s Promise:
“I, (your name here), promise to support policies that promote the healthy development of Alabama children into responsible, educated adults. I will consider the needs of a child in poverty as carefully as the needs of a child in wealth. I will set an example of civilized behavior, and I will not treat any individual or group in a way I would be ashamed to have to explain to a child. As an adult, I will sacrifice my own self-interest when necessary, for the sake of our children, our future.”
When you have signed it, pass it on. Ask your friends and neighbors to sign. And call your legislators and the Governor today. It’s time to speak plainly, Governor Bentley. Tell us you know what is right. Renounce your Norquist Pledge, and sign the Children’s Promise.