05/24/2011 04:58 pm ET Updated Jul 24, 2011

Identity Crisis

In politics, the pendulum swings to the left and to the right. But this most recent political pendulum swing has created such unprecedented divisiveness about the role of government that even incumbents in Congress are deciding not to run. This divisiveness on Capitol Hill is starting to be reflected in our nation's policies and programs. And we are perilously close to changing the fiber of the nation and not for the positive.

At issue most recently is the current budget drama that has been unfolding on Capitol Hill. First there was no budget -- which caused angst for real working people as a government shutdown loomed and Congress struggled to fulfill its obligation to work together and for the greater good. Now we have a budget for this year and the focus has shifted on developing one for 2012.

Unfortunately, the mounting disregard for the role of government in helping people seems apparent in the House-passed 2012 budget. It contains a number of severe cuts, mostly on the backs of poor children and families, despite the fact that the child poverty rate is now at a 50-year high. In child welfare, we've seen some success over the past few years in reducing the number of children in the foster care system due to hard work and progressive legislation such as the Fostering Connections Act -- a landmark bill that still requires appropriations to succeed. I fear that the strides we've made are about to come undone -- due in part to the economic stress and the severity of these budget cuts.

What's particularly disturbing is that at least two-thirds of the cuts in the budget plan target programs serving low-income children and families -- including Medicaid, nutrition efforts, and other social safety net programs. In fact, the plan would eliminate the Medicaid expansion included in the Affordable Care Act, endangering a number of vital services that help the nearly 450,000 children served by the child welfare system, including access to health care. These services are pivotal to helping foster children and other vulnerable children break the cycle of abuse and poverty.

In addition, the House version is recommending an $18 billion reduction to the Labor-HHS bill, which provides discretionary funding for a number of Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act programs, Promoting Safe and Stable Families, Head Start, child care, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and a number of health and education programs targeting vulnerable children and families, so the proposed cuts are especially alarming.

Have we as a nation become desensitized to the needs of those less fortunate? Certainly, we have many caring individuals in our nation -- ones who get involved, volunteer and donate to worthwhile causes. But recent political events make me wonder whether our values have changed for the worse, which doesn't bode well for our nation long term.

That's why it's imperative that we not forget who we are and what makes us different. Our nation's strength has always rested in the fact that we have compassion for others and have structured our society to give all people a hand up and an opportunity to be more. This has made us great.

We cannot let political pendulum swings prevent us from protecting children and ensuring they have a future. That's where true prosperity will come from, but only if we give children a fair opportunity to succeed. This calls for thoughtful budget-making on behalf of our elected officials and a willingness by voters to hold them accountable.