Michael Petit and Max Richtman: A tale of two Janesvilles?

In 1900 the U.S. infant mortality rate was 165 deaths per 1,000 live births. Today it is six. In 1960 the elderly had the highest poverty rate and had no access to affordable health care. Today their poverty rate is the lowest and persons 65 and older are covered by Medicare.

How are these tremendous advancements in human health and dignity related? They are the direct result of the American people telling their elected federal officials — presidents and Congresses both — to stop the preventable deaths of babies, and to stop the avoidable last years of poverty and medical despair for those who had contributed so much over a lifetime. And it worked, the direct result of voter and taxpayer support for smart investments in the common welfare.

These and scores of other social advances over the last century contributed to most Americans enjoying perhaps the highest standard of living in the world. In combination with the benefits of a moderately regulated market economy, America’s national investments in its citizens — in itself — produced the planet’s strongest military and economic power. Now there are some in power who would junk this formula.

That is why we will appear jointly at a rally in Janesville on Thursday: As lifetime advocates for children and seniors, we believe the budget crafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan marks a radical, ideologically driven departure from decades of pragmatic, successful bipartisan policies aimed at lifting all Americans. Now, already adopted by his House GOP colleagues, Congressman Ryan’s plan proposes to break federal commitments to citizens over the next decade to pay for tax cuts and subsidies for wealthy individuals and corporations.

Even though this latest version of trickle-down economics was soundly rejected by voters just five months ago, Ryan has revived his vision for sharply cutting social spending, threatening programs — Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, WIC, school lunches — that have improved lives for millions. If his vision prevails, big insurance companies could once again deny help to millions with pre-existing conditions. Tens of thousands of eager young learners could be denied Head Start. Seniors would face higher out-of-pocket costs while having to navigate the private marketplace with their Medicare vouchers.

The Janesville area has two members of Congress, who hold completely different views on the budget. Mark Pocan, who represents Congressional District 2, takes a balanced approach of targeted cuts to low-priority programs plus new revenues, starting with the elimination of unnecessary corporate tax breaks. He would preserve and strengthen proven safety-net programs in the face of a rapidly aging population and make critical investments in children and youth in order to remain competitive in a global economy.

The Janesville area also is represented by Congressman Ryan, in Congressional District 1. His budget does not solve the problems America’s families’ face. It does not address rampant child abuse and neglect, nor child poverty, nor millions of children in poor-quality child care, nor numerous other challenges facing children and youth. Nor does it address the high unemployment facing many seniors who must work past retirement age, nor the growing out-of-pocket health care costs, nor the poor conditions in many nursing homes, nor the need for a revised cost-of-living formula specifically for seniors, nor numerous other challenges facing elders.

Can there be another community in America faced with such completely different visions of the role of government put forward by its federal representatives? Similarly, could our own organizations be more different, one advocating for those at the beginning of life, the other at the end of life? In fact, their fates and lives are intertwined. Grandparents love their grandkids, and grandkids their grandparents. Both want the other to succeed. The GOP House budget would make achieving such success more difficult.

Michael Petit is the president of Every Child Matters, a national child advocacy organization. Max Richtman is president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.