Representative Paul Ryan, the architect of the GOP's long-term budget proposal, would hotly dispute the claim that he hates kids. He'd tell you that he's a good family man, a good father to his three children and a good churchgoer, and there's no reason to question those bona fides. Like any politician, when the Wisconsin congressman is on the campaign trail he probably hugs every baby in sight, since children make great photo ops.
But it's an entirely different story when it comes to helping American youngsters: Ryan's budget plan is flat-out hostile to their needs.
Take Pell grants, the financial life supports for 9.4 million students who otherwise can't afford college. Currently the maximum grant is $6,550. That's not exactly lavish, but Ryan would cut them by more than 20 percent, back to Bush-era limits, freezing them at that level even as costs continue to rise. At least 180,000 students would be pushed out of the program altogether.
From cradle to college, kids get the short end of the stick. Investments in preschool would be gutted, with an estimated 218,000 fewer Head Start slots, a move that flies in the face of everything we know about the enormous long-term economic and social benefits of early education. Public education would fare no better: 2,400 schools that enroll nearly a million poor youngsters, already strapped for funds, would receive less; that means fewer teachers, bigger classes and worse education.
The GOP scheme is being peddled as the "Path to Prosperity," but the predictable effect is to damage the country's economic prospects -- today's kids are tomorrow's taxpayers -- and effectively enshrine unequal opportunity as the law of the land. And if things look grim in 2012, they'd only get worse over time as the cuts deepened. Since Ryan represents an agricultural district, he should appreciate the consequences of eating your seed corn, for that's precisely what his proposals would accomplish.
When you reduce the domestic budget to Calvin Coolidge era levels, as Ryan's plan does, there have to be lots of losers. But those cuts aren't equitably distributed. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities calculates that two-thirds of the $4 trillion in proposed cuts over the next decade are mainly targeted at low-income Americans. Children are the poorest of the poor -- 40 percent are members of families that earn less than twice the poverty rate -- and they'll only get poorer with Ryanomics.
The big winners are -- surprise, surprise -- the wealthiest taxpayers, who would get $700 billion in tax breaks over the next decade. Meanwhile seniors, who now receive seven times more in federal benefits per person than youth, fare comparatively well. Despite his professed boldness, Ryan isn't willing to tackle Social Security. Much has been made of the draconian impact of his proposed Medicare cuts, and rightly so, but the impact of those cuts would only be felt down the road; to avoid the wrath of seniors, the proposal exempts everyone over fifty-five. The GOP's implicit political calculation is simple and cynical: kids don't matter because, unlike seniors, kids don't vote.
Since the founding of the republic we've prided ourselves on being good stewards who leave the country in better shape for the next generation. No longer: In a nationwide poll, just 27 percent of Americans said that their children would be better off. The Ryan proposal makes that depressing prognostication all the more likely.
"Anyone who hates children and animals can't be all bad," W.C. Fields famously quipped. I don't know about the "animals" part, for I haven't checked out the impact of Ryan's proposed budget on wildlife, but American children have good reason to believe they're not beloved by the congressman from Wisconsin.