"The Bush administration's rhetorical mask of compassionate conservatism has been ripped off by one of the most uncompassionate and dangerous assaults on poor children in America," Edelman said. "Promises to leave no child behind are mocked by tax and budget deeds which leave millions of children, but no millionaires behind."
Edelman, a child advocate and civil rights activist, joined an interfaith delegation of ministers, policy-makers, students, child and civil rights advocates in Washington, for a two-day conference. The event ends Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
Edelman, Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said they would promote legislation that she says would "truly leave no child behind."
Dodd and Miller plan to introduce a bill that Edelman said would address children's basic needs -- healthcare, education, childcare, hunger and shelter. It would create a new children's health insurance program that would give nearly all families guaranteed access to medical coverage.
The measure would also provide Head Start and Early Head Start to all eligible children and pre-school for all parents who want it for their children. It would boost food stamps for low-wage families and provide 1 million new rental vouchers through the federal Section 8 program and expand the supply of affordable housing.
The Children's Defense Fund opposes White House proposals for a $674 billion economic growth package that calls for making his $1.35 trillion tax cuts permanent and abolishing taxes on corporate dividends. Edelman said critical children's initiatives such as Head Start, the State Children's Health Insurance Program and Medicaid would suffer under the president's budget request.
Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said Bush's policies reminded him of the Reagan era some 20 years ago.
"What we see in Congress is the same as 20 years ago -- tax cuts, increased defense spending, and trickle-down benefits. It was a sham then, and it's a sham now," said Henderson.
The White House has proposed in its $2.2 trillion budget request moving Head Start, an early childhood education program, out of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and into the U.S Department of Education. It called the program "a piece of an uncoordinated and overlapping puzzle of federal, state and local programs that are failing to meet the social and academic needs of pre-school age children."
"You have really got a successful program that is really serving children, has been well-evaluated and over 90 percent of parents say work, and we know is getting children ready for school at grade level. Why tear that down and start all over?" Edelman said, referring to the Head Start program.
She scoffed at the president's Leave No Child Behind education reform plan and was incredulous over its name. Edelman said the Bush administration assumed the "Leave No Child Behind" moniker even though the Children's Defense Fund trademarked it in the early 1990s. She said calls to the administration to inform them that they were infringing on a registered trademark went unheeded.
The White House has also called for wrapping the State Children's Health Insurance Program -- which provides health insurance for some 5 million children and Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income families -- into one block grant to the states.
Edelman said block grants do not work, particularly when states are facing skyrocketing budget shortfalls that call for a shift of available resources to keep local agencies operating. What happens, she said, is that the money earmarked for children is used for other purposes.
The budget also included a alternative financing plan for states' child welfare programs. States choosing to participate would face fewer administrative burdens, the White House said. Under the plan, states would receive their funds in the form of flexible grants, rather than funding for a specific program.
Edelman said states merely want as much money as they can get and won't necessarily use it for children's services.
The Bush administration has defended its budget proposals, saying it is giving the states more flexibility to craft programs that will cut down on waste and duplication of programs while fitting states' specific populations. But Edelman said Tuesday that Bush uses state flexibility as a guise to weaken protections for poor children.
"That sounds all very nice," she said. "The point is flexibility means children get cut, children get hurt, children's needs aren't met."