Advocacy group urges Conrad to oppose cuts to programs affecting kids

Kent Conrad

FARGO – A children’s advocacy group has launched a radio advertising campaign in North Dakota to urge Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad to oppose a spending bill that would mean “deep cuts to children’s programs.”

Conrad has repeatedly said he opposed these specific cuts – which amount to $61 billion in reductions for health, education and safety programs.

Since Conrad is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, he holds a lot of sway on matters of funding, Vote Kids President Michael Petit said.

“We just wanted everyone to remind him of the importance of this funding,” Petit said today. “Our basic philosophy is: Kids did not cause this deficit and the budget should not be balanced on their backs.”

Petit said the ad campaign is also an indirect message to Sen. John Hoeven and Rep. Rick Berg, both North Dakota Republicans.

Vote Kids opposes contentious budget cuts included in House bill H.R. 1, which would fund government operations until the end of September.

Rick Berg

Berg joined a nearly unanimous bloc of House Republicans to pass the bill Feb. 19. The legislation is now in the Senate’s hands, but the chambers are at an impasse, since Senate Democrats oppose the $61 billion in cuts that are included in the House bill.

(That impasse led to the drama of recent days, in which Democratic and Republican leaders ultimately agreed on a two-week continuing resolution that would prevent a government shutdown in the short-term.)

Vote Kids is concerned the $61 billion in cuts might remain in the final piece of legislation, so the group is urging North Dakotans to contact Conrad (and, indirectly Hoeven) in order to secure their votes against the bill.

You can listen to the ad here. It will run on Fargo- and Bismarck-area stations for the next several days.

“We want to carry the same message to Hoeven,” Petit said. “And we think Congressman Berg’s vote was terrible. … Even for a small state like North Dakota, the cuts are going to make a difference.”

Conrad has been a prominent voice in the current budget debate, being a member of the “Gang of Six” that’s hashing out the details among congressional leadership. And, he’s previously said he opposes the $61 billion in cuts and, instead, favors different reductions elsewhere.

“I have made it well known that I completely disagree with the House’s approach,” Conrad said in a statement. “Their proposal cuts too deeply, too quickly, and in too many of the wrong areas.  Ironically, it does too little to reduce the debt.”

“The bipartisan Fiscal Commission, on which I served, concluded — as did two other independent commissions — that we ought to begin to cut spending now, but in a modest way over the next 18 months while the economy is still weak,” Conrad continued. “At the same time, we need to put in place a plan that will make big reductions in the nation’s debt over the next ten years.  That proposal includes a more balanced approach with spending cuts, tax reform, and entitlement reform, resulting in a total debt reduction of around $4 trillion.”

When H.R. 1 was before the House two weeks ago, Berg voted in favor of it – joining a solid GOP bloc in passing the legislation by a 235-189 vote. His office did not return an e-mail seeking comment today.

John Hoeven

Since the Senate isn’t finished finalizing its version of the bill, it’s unknown what reductions will make the final cut – but there will likely be difference from the House bill, Hoeven’s office said.

“The House bill is a target range for savings we’re working towards,” Hoeven said in a statement. “The Senate will have its own funding priorities and they won’t necessarily be the same as the House. There will likely be some differences in how the Senate approaches finding savings. That said, we do need to reduce spending and find savings to reduce the deficit.”

According to Vote Kids’ ad campaign, H.R. 1 would result in the following reductions to North Dakota programs that are funded by Congress:

  • Head Start and Early Head Start would serve 565 fewer children.
  • Education for the disadvantaged would lose $2.9 million.
  • North Dakota’s college students would face a $12 million cut in Pell Grants, affecting 19,000 students.
  • Cuts in maternal and child health would reduce pre-natal care to pregnant women.
  • North Dakota’s State Poison Control Center would likely close.
  • Mental health and substance abuse treatment and prevention would drop by more than $2.5 million.
  • Hundreds of children would lose their after-school programs.

The budget debate will continue in the coming days, since congressional leaders have until March 18 before the temporary spending bill expires. Democrats and Republicans are seeking to compromise but are divided on how deep to cut and where to make those cuts.