Who’s Minding the Kids?

William G. Gale
William G. Gale The Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Federal Economic Policy, Senior Fellow - Economic Studies, Co-Director - Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center

January 1, 2004

Last fall, President Bush signed a law providing heavily subsidized prescription drug benefi ts under the Medicare program. In the discussions leading up to the vote on these benefits — the largest new government entitlement program in almost four decades — supporters and opponents debated the effects of the legislation on the federal budget, seniors’ health status, and other worldly matters. Rarely, if ever, were the implications for children considered. But paradoxically, Medicare spending is a children’s issue. For that matter, so are the high-end tax cuts of the past three years that Republicans would dearly like to make permanent.

Our political leaders rarely make this link to children’s issues clear, but it is very simple: little pills and big tax cuts have to be paid for and, one way or another, future generations are going to do the paying. The Medicare prescription drug benefit and the tax breaks both committed massive federal resources that could have been used for other purposes, notably for a major investment in youth that could pay big dividends to today’s children and tomorrow’s retirees.