Monday, January 28, 2008

Just Mean

It seems to me that the only time the president is interested in budget cutting is when it comes to the poor and vulnerable. Tax cuts for the wealthy and for businesses can't be touched, nor can funding for his vanity wars. But when it comes to a bill for helping out the rest of us, the veto pen is unsheathed and brandished threateningly. An editorial in today's NY Times makes my case.

Five years ago, the United States Commission on Civil Rights examined the government’s centuries-old treaty obligations for the welfare of Native Americans and found Washington spending 50 percent less per capita on their health care than is devoted to felons in prison and the poor on Medicaid.

A bipartisan bill to begin repairing this shameful situation is now on the Senate floor. It takes aim at such long neglected needs as the plight of urban Indians, who account for two-thirds of the nation’s 4.1 million tribal population. Most of the American Indians and Alaska natives living in cities are either ineligible for, or unable to reach, the limited help of the Indian Health Service’s reservation-based programs. During the Bush years the White House has sought to eliminate — not bolster — the severely underfinanced Urban Indian Health Program. ...

The administration insists it wants to improve health care for Native Americans. But it objects to the most basic parts of the Senate measure, including its provisions for better urban health programs and its proposal to provide better access to Medicaid and Medicare. Officials also reject the bill’s proposal to build new clinics because it would require the government to pay construction workers prevailing local wages and benefits.
[Emphasis added]

There you have it: the nation's First Americans rank below felons when it comes to providing health care, and, as we in California have learned, those in prison don't exactly get the kind of health care that, say, Vice-President Cheney gets. For all practical purposes, those who have left the reservations for a better shot at employment or education get zero access to health care. The White House refusal to fund the urban health care programs hardly supports its insistence that it wants to change that scenario.

Here's the kicker, however. The White House doesn't want to pay workers building new clinics the prevailing wages and benefits. That's all of a piece with this administration's priorities. Money can always be found for shiny new Ospreys and tanks that even the military doesn't particularly want, but somehow there just isn't enough to fund health care for the poor or to pay decent wages to those who would build clinics. How surprising.

357 days to go.

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