Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Open Letter to the Senate Democrats

I try to avoid writing directly about congressional politics on this blog.  For one, I'd prefer to stay away from the controversy such remarks can provoke, and, two, I work in a minor role within the political structure in this town and know others who work in political roles of varying levels of importance and involvement.  We all do the best we can, working within a complex and vibrant political system.

This afternoon, while I was trying to take a nap, a fundraiser from the DNC called.  That's the Democratic National Committee, for those of you who might not know.  The DNC works to raise money for House and Senate elections, among other things.  During the 2008 campaign, while I'd given money directly to the Obama campaign, I'd made a special point of giving money to the DNC because they were behind in their fundraising goals.  I've known people who've worked for the DNC, the DSCC, and the DCCC, and I admire their tenacity and commitment.

I knew the California number on the caller ID was a DNC call--I recognized it from previous calls.  They've been calling every day for a while now, and I've been letting it ring.  Today, I picked it up.  But I had to tell the fundraiser on the other line that, while I supported the President, I did not want to give the DNC any more of my hard-earned money because I do not want to help the Senate Democrats as a whole any longer.  I might support individual senatorial campaigns, but, as for globally supporting the Senate, forget it.  

I told the fundraiser that I had had to listen last night to Senator Ben Nelson (D-NB) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) defend to Rachel Maddow the collective lunacy of the Senate and the gutted stimulus bill they just passed.  Senator Nelson, in particular, made me furious with his rationalization not just of tax cuts, but the Senate's decision to slash education and, I think, Medicaid reimbursements to the states.  In particular, Senator Nelson felt justified in slashing special education because, as a former governor, he didn't like being told what to do about education, particularly special education, by the federal government and then not receiving the funding support promised by the federal government for mandated programs.  Education was, he insisted, a local issue.

Well, let me tell you something Senator Nelson.  It's governors like you that would have brushed my kid aside as unworthy of education because he was too much trouble.  Because when 'locals' are in charge of special education, no one wants to bother with the disabled and their expenses.  And 'locals' didn't want to bother with the desegregation of public schools, either.  And 'local' communities wanted to bar gay teachers from the classrooms in California in the 1970s.  Unfortunately, 'local' control of education leads to patterns of bigotry and discrimination, which is why we need the federal government to step in and provide rules that level the playing field for all children.  Despite great progress in the inclusion of children with disabilities in classrooms in Maryland, my husband and I have still been fighting vestigial bigotry of some 'local' control.  Horizons keep opening for Robert because, even under the Bush Administration, the feds were on the side of justice for students with disabilities.

And, Senator Nelson, you just put your thumb in the eye of the growing number of 'local' people who want to do what's right for the kids in their districts, even while states are struggling. There's a rank hypocrisy in protesting unfunded mandates by refusing to fund those mandates.  

And you did this because spending on schools and education and the disabled will not, in your opinion, stimulate the economy.  And besides, you argued, as did Senator Boxer, we all need to consider the Republicans' feelings and perspectives.

As the parent of a disabled child, I have an entirely different perspective.  I grew up in Vermont, in a state with a libertarian streak.  I was taught to be suspect of dependency of any kind.  But I have to say that I have learned that targeting funding to certain groups of people is effective in helping those people to maintain the best measure of independence that they can under difficult circumstances.  And when I am independent to greatest extent possible, I can hold a job, I can earn money, and I can spend it to stimulate this tanking economy.

Senator Nelson's problem is a basic disrespect for the economic needs of women with children, and a basic inability to understand why it is important to keep women in the workforce.  If my child is in school, if my child is learning, if my child is gaining independence through education, that frees me up to pursue my own goals, earn my own money, and help to support my family.  This is particularly important in an unstable economy when husbands across America are losing their jobs.  Women step into the void--but if we've let our job skills rust to provide household support to our husbands and their demanding jobs, we're now on thin ice economically. 

Furthermore, those couples with disabled children are often one step away from divorce, bankruptcy, and overwhelming medical bills, let alone the absence of qualified childcare providers for children with disabilities.  Cuts to state agencies that handle in-home support for the disabled, afterschool support for disabled children, and nursing care to diminish hospital visits and costly medical complications will result in the mushrooming of costs not only to states, but to individual families struggling with disabled family members.  Cuts to Medicaid mean exploding healthcare costs for families with children whose disabilities and chronic conditions are extremely expensive.  When states can't meet their budget goals, all of these costs are shifted to families, and women suffer most.  

These costs to families will not be offset by a lousy $500 to $1,000 tax cut to individuals.  But if I have targeted support from my state government, I can hold a job, I can earn money, and I can spend it on the consumer goods my family needs.  If not, the $1,000 goes to unpaid bills and medical co-pays.  Or I try to save it.  It's certainly not going to buy me tuition at some kind of private school that might meet my son's needs, or pay more than a month's worth of an afterschool program.

When the Senate gets its head screwed on properly and gets a clue about how much women with children contribute, or can contribute, to the economy, maybe then we can talk campaign contributions.  For now, I'll hold onto my contribution to pay for my child's medications.


Leightongirl said...

Bravo to you, J., for calling it like it is, as always.

Tim and Melissa said...

Well said.I just want to let you know that you are not the only one with those feelings! If enough of us ever get together something really good can finally happen.

I happen to come across your blog from googling "busily seeking a continual change" because I am currently reading Wyatt.

I like what you have to say and wish you all the luck and health in your family's future. ♥

jeneva said...

Thanks, everyone. I just wanted to note that the Senate and the House passed the stimulus with $12 billion allocated for special ed. My sources told me that the Senate appropriations staff, and the Senators as well, of course, thought it was very important.