Neda Semnani,  October 2, 2013

A Modest Proposal for the Twenty-First Century

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Title page of the 1729 edition of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal. / Trinity College Dublin

There is something to be said for having a strong voting bloc, the power to organize, a grumpy scrappiness, and a golden opportunity. On Tuesday, a group of World War II veterans, visiting Washington as part of the Honor Flight network, were kept from visiting their memorial and the rest of the city because of the ridiculous government shutdown. So, the vets took matters into their own hands and stormed the barricades. The organizers of this group of octogenarian veterans also reached out to Tea Party Republican lawmakers. The lawmakers tripped over themselves racing to get down to the WWII memorial and to slam President Barack Obama and the 2010 Affordable Care Act, while they cut the tape to let the old scrappy vets into the memorial.

On the same day, several miles from the grandstanding on the national mall, children with cancer were being turned away from receiving medical therapies that could save their lives. All across the nation, low-income pregnant women and infants lost access to a needed nutritional program. And 19,000 children across the country were turned away from much-needed government programs, like Head Start, a program where many children not only learn to read but also receive their only nutritious meal of the day.

Let’s be serious—children, low-income pregnant women, Head Start teachers, and the sick and the infirm do not have the voting bloc that veterans do. Nor do these groups occupy the same storied place in our national consciousness. And the children, the poor, and the sick generally don’t have time to engage in any curmudgeonly acts of civil disobedience. They are too busy growing up, or too busy trying to work and feed their families, or too busy trying not to die.

Our lawmakers like to trot out each of these groups—how many times have we heard of a senator’s grandchildren?—but can afford to ignore them in their legislative priorities for the relatively simple reason that the vulnerable can’t afford to fill up lawmakers’ war chests. Neither do these groups have the time to call and write their representatives continuously. The actual people who are sick, vulnerable, and young and who rely on government-provided social services are ignored or traded like poker chips during the process of drafting legislation.

How can we tell? In Congress, it’s relatively simple to see which areas have the most lawmaker attention and support. Just look at where the money is going. When we glance at what Congress is deigning to fund, there are certain trends that become glaringly obvious, but the repercussions of systematically ignoring, or simply overlooking, the needs of the most vulnerable can have dire results, as illustrated by the nonpartisan research group First Focus’s latest Children’s Budget 2013. The report, released Wednesday, shows that there has been a steady three-year decline in federal investments for children. Investments, according to the report, that include everything from education to housing to social security.

More concerning: Since 2010, when the Affordable Care Act passed and the stalemate in Congress took on epic proportions as a result, spending on children (and families) has tanked by $55 billion dollars. Even more disgusting, the logjams over funding bills have resulted in $11 billion cuts in discretionary spending, which disproportionately impact programs that serve children and families. And, according to the nonpartisan research group, it’s only going to get worse for these kinds of programs, especially as the country gets farther and farther into the weeds of sequestration. Children and families should expect to see further cuts of an estimated $4.2 billion due to sequestration.

The 2013 government shutdown, like 2012’s sequestration nonsense, does not have anything to do with actual governing. It is another example of “political terrorism” imposed by an extreme wing of the Republican Party. We have to remember that our constitutional government isn’t supposed to grind to a halt every time one political group doesn’t get its way. They are meant to grumble, speechify, legislate, and then when all that fails, just get on with it.

Dear Tea Party Republicans: Please get over it—the Affordable Care Act passed, exchanges are up and running. It’s been more than three years and y’all lost. And, sure, losing blows a giant Moby Dick, but it happens. Now it is time to buck up, GOP campers, and fund the fucking government.

Get the streets, parks, and memorials back up and running, while you throw a fit and read Green Eggs and Ham, if you must. But first, it’s time to stop punishing sick children, vulnerable families, and, yes, even scrappy old vets for a legislative defeat that wasn’t their fault. It was yours.

Neda Semnani is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in The Week, Los Angeles Review of BooksBuzzfeed, and others.

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