Right before the U.S. House of Representatives left for the summer to go home to campaign for your vote, members of Congress voted to extend the Bush era tax cuts for the richest Americans – millionaires and billionaires. For more than 10 years, the richest 1 percent have received almost $750 billion from these tax cuts. Income and wealth inequality have grown astronomically threatening the very fabric of our democracy.
The top 1 percent in our nation now possesses more net worth than the bottom 90 percent combined. In 2008, the 400 highest-income taxpayers earned as much as the combined tax revenue of 22 state governments with almost 42 million citizens. It’s way past time to reset our moral and economic compass, demand a more just tax system where those with the most pay their fair share, and stop the reverse Robin Hood policies that take from the poor and young to give to the rich and powerful.
There should not be one new dime in tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires as long as millions of children in America are poor, hungry, uneducated and without health coverage. A nation that does not stand for its children does not stand for anything and will not stand tall in the future. Like Thomas Jefferson, I tremble for my country when I think that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.
Yet, the extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest American, especially on top of the cuts approved in the Ryan budget, passed by the full House defies the prophets, apostles and tenets of all great faiths as well as common decency and economic common sense. The most recent vote continues to give huge tax breaks to those who need them least while shaving away lifelines of survival from those who need them most. It would cut eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and the Child Tax Credit (CTC), two of the most effective investments we have that lift children out of poverty, and from the American Opportunity Tax Credit which helps struggling families pay for their children’s college. These cuts would push 900,000 children into poverty and at least 6.4 million children into deeper poverty an unconscionable act when 16.4 million children are living in poverty; 7.5 million of those live in extreme poverty.
This is a year of stark political, economic and moral choices. Those who caused the deficit should be asked to pay to close it and not be rewarded with more tax breaks which will increase the deficit and shave already inadequate safety investments. Children under five are the poorest age group in America, and one in four infants, toddlers and preschoolers are poor during the years of greatest brain development. If you believe as I do that we have more just and sensible choices like helping babies during their early childhood development years rather than helping billionaires who need not one additional material thing, then speak up and fight back.
Cascading federal, state, county and city budget cuts adding up to hundreds of billions of dollars are being pushed by lawmakers pursuing a toxic ideological agenda of no new revenues, expanded tax cuts for the top 1 percent of Americans and billions of cuts for poor children and families. Our nation’s greatest deficit is not one of money but of values and priorities that leave millions of children without hope or a vision of the future worth striving for in our militarily and materially powerful but spiritually anemic nation.
That’s why the Children’s Defense Fund has launched a new campaign to protect children from budget cuts at the national, state and local levels. The “Be Careful What You Cut” campaign lays out the irrefutable economic case that cutting children from the budget now costs all of us more later. It’s a simple calculation really. Protect children now or pay later. The campaign is grounded in three provocative ads created by our award winning pro-bono advertising agency partner Fallon Worldwide. The head of a child is on the body of an adult. The images show what happens later if you cut child investments now as the House of Representatives and their allies are bent on doing.
For all of you who care about children, here’s what you can do. Arm yourself with the facts about children in your community from the CDF’s State of America’s Children® Handbook, download questions for candidates from the becarefulwhatyoucut.com Web site, then go to town hall meetings or visit your member of Congress while they are back home campaigning and hold them accountable to ensure they treat babies as fairly as billionaires. If candidates want your vote on Election Day make sure they answer your questions and put children first rather than last on the agenda.
Join the “Be Careful What You Cut” campaign. Help us spread the word by getting pro-bono space in your local newspapers to run the advertisements. Spread the word through your social media networks. Show your support by changing your profile picture on Facebook and your avatar on Twitter. Donate to the Be Careful What You Cut Fund, so that we can run a second wave of ads in the late fall before the lame duck Congress makes final budget decisions for next year. Together we can and must fight for justice for our children and protect them from draconian tax cuts and budget choices that threaten their survival, education and preparation for the future. If they are not ready for tomorrow, neither is America.
Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.