When John Chafee died last week, it wasn't just a tragic loss for his family, or for the U.S. Senate, where he had served with distinction for 23 years. John Chafee's death was a loss for America.
At his funeral Saturday, his former colleague, John Danforth, an Episcopal priest who presided over the service, explained why Chafee was held in such high esteem by his colleagues: "His goal wasn't stalemate where nothing could be done. His goal was consensus where a lot could be done. Literally, he was a lawmaker."
Indeed, he was a lawmaker who never lost his commitment to the disadvantaged and those left behind. I last spoke with John Chafee on the Friday before he died. I called to wish him a happy 77th birthday, and to talk about a bill we both cared about deeply -- a bill he had introduced to provide support for foster children forced to leave the system when they turn 18.
At a time when partisanship and posturing too often win out over compromise and consensus, John Chafee's entire career stands as a shining example of just what we can accomplish when we reach across party lines to do what's right. Willing to risk the wrath of some in his own party, he never stopped fighting for the environment, children, campaign finance reform, gun control and health care for every American. Just five days before his death, he joined three other Republicans to support the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
As they work to pass this year's budget, Congress is faced with the opportunity to put politics aside and follow John Chafee's example once again.
Last week, majorities in the Senate and the House passed across-the-board budget cuts of approximately 1 percent -- an easy way to contain spending, but not the right way. Although Republicans can argue that their approach is equitable, it would, in fact, have far-reaching and serious implications for far too many Americans. Here are some examples:
-- Approximately 71,000 fewer needy women, infants and children would receive food assistance and nutrition services.
-- Approximately 2,700 fewer children would receive child-care assistance.
-- Almost 5,700 disadvantaged young people could lose job training, summer employment and education activities.
-- Head Start would serve approximately 4,800 fewer children and families.
-- Over 117,000 students in high-poverty communities could lose educational services necessary to improve their future prospects.
-- Cuts to the Reading Excellence program could eliminate literacy services for about 9,700 children.
-- Roughly 40,000 women could lose reproductive health-care services.
-- As many as 2,900 children could be denied the full complement of childhood immunizations.
-- Nearly 3,800 people could lose their mental-health and substance-abuse services.
-- Cuts could eliminate funding to clean up two additional Superfund sites.
-- Emergency farm aid, earmarked to help our nation's farmers deal with this year's low commodity prices and natural disaster losses, could be cut.
-- Cuts to the Defense Department budget could result in a loss of up to 48,000 military personnel.
-- Cuts to the Housing and Urban Development budget could mean a loss of housing assistance to 19,300 households.
-- Cuts to the NASA budget could mean the likely deferral of some Earth and Space Science missions, the delay of Space Station construction, and the cancellation of university grants in many states.
-- The National Park Service could be forced to eliminate plans to improve facilities and expand operations at some new or growing parks.
-- The FBI could be forced to cut 106 agents and 141 analysts, computer specialists, engineers and other support staff, reducing resources for critical law-enforcement activities, including national security investigations, combating organized crime and illegal drugs, and fighting cyber crime.
-- The Immigration and Naturalization Service could lose 116 Border Patrol agents and 154 support staff.
The President sent Congress a budget plan that would eliminate the debt by 2015, strengthen Medicare and Social Security, and invest in priorities like education, law enforcement, national security and the environment. Furthermore, the President's plan is fully paid for.
In response, the Republican leadership has resorted to gimmicks -- such as designating the constitutionally mandated census as "emergency" spending -- and across-the-board cuts that harm everyone from the neediest Americans to our men and women in uniform. In addition, their plan reneges on last year's bipartisan agreement to fund 100,000 teachers and reduce class size in the early grades; it does not include a key accountability initiative to help turn around failing schools; and it fails to extend Medicare or Social Security solvency by a single day.
Nothing that Congress does reflects more clearly on its priorities than the budget. It is time for this Congress to put politics aside and pass a budget that works for the American people.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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