North America

25 Februrary 1995

By Bob Herbert

The helpless are taking the brunt of the Republicans' Attack on Our Social System

The Republican jihad against the poor, the young and the helpless rolls on. So far no legislative assault has been too cruel, no budget cut too loathsome for the party that took control of Congress at the beginning of the year and has spent all its time since then stomping on the last dying embers of idealism and compassion in government.

This week Republicans in the House began approving measures that would take food off the trays of hungry school children and out of the mouths of needy infants. With reckless disregard for the human toll that is sure to follow, they have also aimed their newly powerful budget-reducing weapons at programs that provide aid to handicapped youngsters, that support foster care and adoption,that fight drug abuse in schools and that provide summer jobs for needy youths.

They have also targeted programs that provide fuel oil to the poor and assistance to homeless veterans. And they have given the back of their hand to President Clinton's national service corps.

The United States has entered a nightmare period in which the overwhelming might of the Federal Government is being used to deliberately inflict harm on the least powerful people in the nation. The attacks on children have been the worst. If the anti-child legislation that is moving with such dispatch through the House actually becomes law, `the results will be cataclysmic,' according to James Weill, general counsel to the Children's Defense Fund.

Mr. Weill said: `The Republican leadership has targeted children for almost all of the pain. They've cut, I think, $7 billion out of the child nutrition programs, and that's not even counting food stamps, which they haven't done yet.

`Foster care and adoption have been cut by $4 billion over five years. They've cut Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and they're eliminating most of the entitlements as they go along. They're just smashing their way through all of the children's programs. To me, this so-called revolution is more like a massacre of the innocents.'

President Clinton denounced the cuts and accused the G.O.P. majority in Congress of `making war on children.' At a press conference yesterday in Ottawa, Canada, Mr. Clinton said: `What they want to do is make war on the kids of this country to pay for the capital gains tax cut. That's what's going on.'

There is a breathless, frenzied quality to the Republican assault, as if the party leaders recognize that they must get their work done fast--while the Democrats are still in a post-election stupor, and before the public at large becomes aware of the extremes of suffering and social devastation that are in the works.

`This agenda is too harsh,' said Senator Paul Wellstone, a Democrat from Minnesota. `I realize that the Republicans won the election, but these measures are too extreme, too mean-spirited. They go beyond what the goodness of the people in this country would permit. Most Americans do not want to see vulnerable people hurt, especially children.'

Mr. Wellstone has irritated some of his Republican colleagues by frequently offering a legislative amendment that says the Senate `will not enact any legislation that will increase the number of children who are hungry or homeless.' Each time it is offered, the amendment is defeated.

The Senate majority leader, Bob Dole, dismissed the Wellstone amendment as an `extraneous' measure designed solely to make Republicans `look heartless and cold.' No doubt. But Senator Wellstone is right on target when he says that the Republican legislative strategy was carefully designed to hurt the people `who aren't the big players, who aren't the heavy hitters, who don't make big contributions, who don't have lobbyists, who don't have clout.'

If anything is funny in this dismal period, it's that the Republicans are touchy about being called heartless and cold. That's a riot. Has anyone listened to Newt Gingrich lately? To Dick Armey? To Phil Gramm? This is the coldest crew to come down the pike since the Ice Age.

Copyright 1995, The New York Times.

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