Grabbing food from mouths of babies

Bush veto puts nutrition, home heating programs on chopping block

WASHINGTON — This is the season for feasting and good cheer. But President Bush, like Ebenezer Scrooge, is waging a mean crusade to force more than half a million poor women, infants and children off the WIC nutrition program.

The Coalition on Budget and Policy Priorities charged in a Nov. 27 report that Bush’s veto of an omnibus domestic spending bill Nov. 14 “could cause half a million low-income, pregnant women, infants and children to be denied nutritional benefits in one of the nation’s most effective programs.”

Zoe Neuberger, co-author of the report, decried Bush’s veto as “penny wise and pound foolish.” The WIC program “has a very, very strong track record” in providing vital nutrition to pregnant and lactating women and to children, she told the World. “There is a very large body of research documenting the health benefits, improved birth outcomes, reduced child anemia and better diets for the women and children enrolled in WIC.”

The report charges that WIC is the victim of Bush’s “guns over butter” budget priorities. “Given the level of funding being provided for the defense, homeland security and international appropriations bills, the amount of funding left within the president’s $933 billion limit for the eight domestic appropriations bills is $16.4 billion below the level provided 2007, adjusted for inflation,” said the report.

Bush proposed only $5.387 billion to serve the 8.28 million enrolled in the WIC program, far below the level needed to pay for sharply higher food prices. Bush’s proposal also did not factor in the rising demand for WIC as the economy worsens and unemployment rises.

By contrast, the House approved $5.6 billion for WIC and the Senate $5.7 billion. While both measures would serve roughly a quarter million more recipients than Bush, they would still require cutting about 235,000 recipients.

The House on Nov. 15 fell only two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to override Bush’s veto. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that Congress will put together a package that will include all the domestic spending measures Bush has vetoed but reduce by half the $22 billion in funding Congress had proposed above Bush’s budget.

Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, argued strongly against that compromise. “We don’t care how it is packaged,” she told the World. “What is key is the level of support for these vital programs. We have gone through seven years of cuts. We need to rebuild and invest in these programs, not cut them.”

She urged voters to seek meetings with their representatives to demand they push for full funding. She cited as an example the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Even as home heating prices are skyrocketing and family income for the poor is eroding, Bush’s veto would strip 1.4 million households of LIHEAP benefits; 1.2 million people will lose access to community health centers; 173,000 people will lose job training and 34,000 children will be denied Head Start.

Bush’s earlier repeated vetoes of the SCHIP children’s health program denied care to 4 million children not currently protected by SCHIP and jeopardized the 6.6 million already enrolled. That program is still in limbo.

Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the omnibus spending bill “was a carefully crafted bipartisan effort to fund essential services that promote education, economic development, job training and scientific research.”

While the president is willing to “spend billions on Iraq,” McEntee added, “he turns his back on the vital services that strengthen America’s middle class. This Congress needs to say no to the president’s wrong priorities.”

Meanwhile, the House rejected Bush’s $196 billion Iraq war request and instead approved a $50 billion “emergency supplemental” by a vote of 218-203. Sue Udry, legislative coordinator of United for Peace and Justice, said the bill contains many conditions that would cause a Bush veto. Senate Republicans blocked its consideration when the Democrats fell seven votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to terminate debate.

Called the “Orderly and Responsible Iraq Redeployment Act,” it states that the funding’s primary purpose is for “redeployment and not to extend or prolong the war.” It would require Bush to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq within 30 days and implement withdrawal of all but a “limited presence” by Dec. 15, 2008.

Reps. Barbara Lee, Lynn Woolsey and Maxine Waters, all California Democrats and leaders of the “Out of Iraq Caucus,” said they supported the legislation as “concrete steps in the right direction.”

Udry said the large vote for the measure reflects “the extraordinary efforts of peace groups across the country that have moved Congress to the point of confrontation.”

She urged the antiwar movement to “build new coalitions with domestic interest groups around a joint agenda for peace and justice.”

greenerpastures21212 @yahoo.com