No American policymaker has ever stood behind a podium and given a speech in which he or she deployed the phrase “screw kids” or “children don’t vote so let’s deny them much-needed services.” The more common phrase is “children are our future,” which somehow manages to be both disingenuous — it ought to be rephrased to “children are our future tax base” — and totally meaningless. Yet, there are many politicians across the country working tirelessly to push programs and agendas that are known to hurt children. Policymakers hurting children operate at all levels of government and tend to favor bold, family-first rhetoric that obscures corporatist and extremist agendas constructed with ill intent.
Because the American government doesn’t meaningfully subsidize childhood — it spends less than 7,000 dollars per kid in low-income families and only about 2.7 percent of its GDP on children in general — most of the politicians working against the interests of children are small government types looking to make cuts on cuts on cuts. This may make short-term sense to deficit hawks, but studies and history suggest that a failure to adequately invest in early childhood nutrition, education, and support leads to massive long-term costs, both in fiscal and human terms. That said, there are a few folks on the left who seem willing to chase moral relativism in a dangerous direction, declining to regulate concerning parental behaviors.
The below is a less than exhaustive list of politicians pushing policies that are dangerous to kids. Whether or not these pols set out to hurt kids doesn’t matter. They’ve shown a willingness to do damage.
Andrew Wheeler (Acting Administrator of the EPA)
Andrew Wheeler is the acting head of the EPA and the former deputy of scandal-magnet Scott Pruitt. Prior to working at the EPA, Wheeler worked as a lobbyist for clients like Murray Energy Corporation — one of the biggest coal companies in the country. He remains the Vice President of the Washington Coal Club, a group of 300 coal executives and supporters, and famously flaunts the endorsement of Jim Inhofe, a man who famously refers to climate change as a hoax. But what puts Andrew Wheeler on this list is his decision to place the EPA’s head of the Office of Children’s Health, Dr. Ruth Etzel, a qualified pediatrician, on administrative leave. Etzel had worked in children’s health for three decades and was a former member of the World Health Organization. The office she occupied was created to advise the EPA on children’s health issues. Who would want to get rid of an office that advises an environmental agency on the things that are affecting kids health? Andrew Wheeler, a man who doesn’t care about kids.
Lamar Alexander (Senator, Tennessee)
Senator Lamar Alexander is a dyed in the wool conservative, who has voted to make abortion illegal after 20 weeks on a federal level and has a zero percent rating from NARAL. Alexander has even supported expanding affirmative action to include “political views,” an effort to get more conspiracy theorists on college campuses. However, he makes this list for authoring two repeal bills in March of 2017 that targeted Obama-era federal guidelines. Those bills were successfully passed and signed by President Trump. What did Alexander achieve? He got rid of school accountability measures and sunk federal guidelines on how states should carry out the Every Student Succeeds Act, which was meant to protect disadvantaged students, invest in innovative education techniques, and increase accountability in schools. Politicians who supported the original bill argued that its repeal would just let poor-performing schools continue to fail poor children, minorities, kids with disabilities, and at-risk youth. It was a convincing argument.But that’s not all. Alexander also torpedoed regulations for a program that was meant to help new teachers be prepared for their classroom and report their achievements to outside authorities. This was nothing new. In 1999, Alexander tried to fight bilingual education. He has a zero percent rating from the NEA.
- Jeffrey Pogue (House Representative, Missouri)
A Missouri legislator, Pogue recently made headlines when he offered the single vote against a bill that would have banned child marriage in his state. Although that bill advanced to the Senate, it died there, and when sponsored again this year, it didn’t even pass the house. Child marriage is not some abstract concept in the state; the Tahirih Justice Center, which studies gender-based violence, reported that between the years of 2000 and 2014, 7,342 teen girls under the age of 18 were married in Missouri. That same research showed that in 2007, 52 teen girls were married off. As the law currently stands — no thanks to Jeffrey Pogue — a 15-year-old can marry an adult with the approval of their parents; a child under 15 can marry with the approval of a judge. That represents a step forward. There are many reasons Missouri is a haven for sex trafficking and child marriages. Pogue is one of them.
- Greg Gianforte (House Representative, Montana)
House Representative Greg Gianforte is not a nationally known politician. Perhaps he should be. He sponsored a bill commonly referred to as the Gianforte-Daines tax bill that allowed parents to take a 10,000 dollar deduction from their 529 plans in order to subsidize their child’s private education through elementary and middle school. This bill was clearly engineered to help rich people put their kids in private schools and subsidize charter schools. Given that education funding has already been cut in the state — some 19 million dollars in revenue won’t be in the budget next year for public education — this bill represented a gamble. But Gianforte wasn’t just gambling on education policy. Gianforte oversees a charter-style school called Petra Academy. In his role, he has been accused of discriminating against students with disabilities from physical ailments to ADHD by way of not allowing them to attend Petra. He seems to have been sponsoring a bill to normalize his own questionable (if not illegal) practices.
- Joe Manchin – (Senator, West Virginia)
West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin is nominally a Democrat. However, his environmental reporting record is abysmal. He supported the nomination of Scott Pruitt and voted to repeal the Stream Protection Rule in February of 2017. This shouldn’t be a surprise; Manchin is from West Virginia, a state that still employs over 9,000 coal workers in the coal industry, so the threat to coal can mean a lot of lost jobs in his state. However, coal-powered energy is directly linked to poorer health outcomes. The CDC reports that West Virginians rank third in chronic lower respiratory disease deaths, second in cancer, and eleventh in heart disease. They also rank seventh in flu- and pneumonia-related deaths. The link between these causes of death and coal-powered energy is undeniable.
Manchin was the governor of West Virginia from 2005 to 2010 and the budget cuts that he enacted, including the business franchise tax and corporate income tax, are part of the reason West Virginia teachers remain some of the worst paid in the country. He offered support for their strike in 2018. Too little, too late.
- Cory Gardner – (Senator, Colorado)
Cory Gardner, a Republican senator from Colorado, co-sponsored the Abstinence Education Reallocation Act, which would provide $110 million per year (a total of over $500 million) to teach abstinence in public schools across the country. That program would be taught to kids aged 12 to 19 and would teach kids abstinence. Abstinence-based education programs are known to increase rates of STDs and teen pregnancy in places where they are taught. Abstinence-based education programs are nearly-universally criticized by pediatricians and healthcare experts alike, making his support of them an act of political interest, not science-backed research. He also voted in favor of H.R.3, which would have cut existing but unspent funding to key social programs like the Child Enrollment Contingency Fund in the Social Security Act.