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Uncommon Ground

Legislative Recess

Budget Debates

Politics today is more about ideology than hometown representation. A legislator blindly following party bosses and not listening to constituents is wrongheaded and indicates that the middle is losing ground.

The budget debates in the Montana Legislature and the U.S. Congress have been transformed into social engineering classrooms. In Helena and Washington D.C., the new GOP is annoyed that government would actually fund programs targeting people with the least wealth.

Recently the federal government was nearly shut down over U.S. House objections that taxpayers fund programs for lower income women to get cancer screenings and family planning at Planned Parenthood.

In Helena, the GOP voted to reject $100 million in federal money designed to help lower income people during hard times. Again, the party used Planned Parenthood as the boogeyman to justify the move. The rejected federal dollars are designed for unemployed and working poor Montanans to buy food, heat homes and insure kids.

We witnessed these same political shenanigans during the last government shut down, in 1995. Back then it was “welfare moms,” but today the list includes infants and seniors, as well as anyone who has the nerve to be disabled.

The Helena budget impasse includes the Children’s Health Insurance Program; Women Infants and Children, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; and the Low Income Energy Assistance Program. These safety nets were designed with bipartisan support. They became problematic as the new brand of GOP leapt into power. It’s reminiscent of the old days of culture war politics.

The U.S House is scheming to dismantle Medicaid and Medicare, enacted in 1965 in the Social Security Act. Medicare is a single-payer health insurance program, which provides coverage to Americans over 65 years of age. Medicaid provides medical- and health-related funding for poor people.

The intent of all these political theatrics is simple: keep the debt focus directed at middle class Americans. Politicians overlook those unemployed workers hurting the most, as a result of the financial meltdown of Wall Street. They forget that taxpayers bailed out the wealthiest hedge fund traders, only to see the government churn up policies that hurt them.

None of this has much to do with budgeting dollars and cents. It is the reengineering of government during an economic downturn. The U.S. House routinely overlooks the major component of the budget: military funding.

We are engaged in natural-resource wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Libya. This adds tremendous debt onto our ledger. Much of the U.S. budget is allocated to some form of military-based funding. Compare this to money set aside for Health and Human Services or Education.

Five-star general and former President Dwight Eisenhower said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

The U.S House may no longer represent the middle class, but it is not too late for Montana. Legislators should spend time in the great outdoors during a recess from the session, letting Governor Brian Schweitzer read the proposed GOP budget.

Remember, the 2007 Legislature infamously adjourned without a balanced budget. Voters demanded results during the ensuing special session. Budgets are the vision of Montana. That vision should not be ideologically driven, but instead representative of a moderate constituency.

After the recess, lawmakers should remember that these federal dollars allow low income Montanans to weather economic downturns. The WIC moms that feed kids and CHIPS kids that visit doctors and SNAP families that eat with food stamps, make up a large portion of Flathead residents. The Legislature must stop trying to nullify federal funding for these programs. Work together and pass a budget that reflects all Montanans.

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