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Keeping Children in Mind

THE budget battle lines in Washington have recently been drawn tightly around the nation's children. Who really has the interests of the younger generation in mind?

Republicans tend to emphasize the long-term benefits of balancing the federal budget. Future taxpayers won't have ballooning interest on the federal debt weighing down economic growth and opportunity. Deficit-elimination is the biggest gift we can give our kids, they proclaim.

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Democrats emphasize education, nutrition, health care, and job training as the way to secure the future for America's children. These are the very items being pinched back by Republican budget-cutters, they reiterate.

Both positions have merit, and they should not be mutually exclusive. Erasing, or at least significantly reducing, the deficit will brighten the economic outlook for our children. But the way those reductions are executed could darken immediate prospects for many youngsters - particularly those whose families don't have the money to pay for better schooling, or even adequate food. It's late in the budget process to arrive at a mix of deficit reduction and well-chosen spending that can serve the interests of all children. But it can be done.

Attack the deficit by reforming entitlements, but: include child care along with job incentives in welfare reform. Spare preschool programs proven effective in helping disadvantaged children. Make sure that nutritional safety nets, such as food stamps, aren't shredded. States may get more leeway in these areas, but national guidelines - call them fairness goals - should still apply.

With bipartisanship and conscience, congressional conferees could come up with a budget reasonably responsive to the future, and immediate, needs of children.

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