NEW YORK -- Their numbers plugging several blocks of New York's Broadway during rush hour on Nov. 2, thousands of New Yorkers cheered as speaker after speaker demanded that President Clinton veto the GOP budget that is winding its way through the Congressional mill.
Organizers estimated the size of the demonstration to be 25,000 to 40,000. Demonstrators assembled in Madison Square Park before stepping off to a recording of Glen Miller's "In the Mood," with banners and balloons fluttering in the crisp fall breeze, for the 20-block march to Times Square.
George Blease, a Local 1199 union delegate from New York's Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, stopped chanting long enough to tell the World that he had come to the demonstration "to send a message -- and we're doing it,"Jhe said, pointing to the shower of paper thrown from high rise office buildings. "Look at the support we have."
"We are here to show the president that people will stand behind him if he vetoes the cuts in Medicaid and Medicare that the Republicans hope to use to balance the budget so they can give tax breaks to the rich," Carolyn McCullough, director of Economic and General Welfare Programs for the New York State Nurses Association, said at the park.
McCullough told the World that tax breaks for the rich would come at the expense of "pain and suffering of people who are sick," a practice, she said that was "in the same category as the sale of human beings and child pornography."
Unless Clinton vetoes the budget, federal funding for Medicare will be cut by more than $270 billion by 2002 and Medicaid by more than $180 billion. The budget also cuts federal funding for Aid for Families with Dependent Children; Women's, Infant's and Children's nutritional programs; Head Start and energy assistance by more than $100 billion over the same period. The measure is expected to reach the president's desk by Nov. 17.
Dennis Rivera, president Local 1199, drew thunderous applause when he said, "Mr. President, do the right thing!" Rivera said his union would spearhead a drive to collect post cards from four million New Yorkers calling for a veto. "That's more people than voted for you from this state," he said, a point not missed by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton who was sitting on the speaker's platform.
Then, addressing House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rivera said, "You started this fight but we will finish it. We will be here when you are gone!"
Marion Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, said there were "two big issues" in the proposed budget. The first, she said, were the cuts that would increase the number of children lacking any kind of health protection from today's 9.5 million to more than 19 million by 2002.
"There is something even more threatening," she told the World. "They are changing the structure of the social safety net." Edelman said that giving states money for Medicaid and welfare in the form of block grants with little or no federal guidelines was a basic philosophical debate over the role of the federal government in protecting the welfare of its people. "Cutting benefits is like moving the furniture in the house. Block grants are like destroying its foundation."
Edelman added, "We have two weeks to assure President Clinton that he is not alone in his promise to veto the legislation. We've just got to do that."
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and Harlem Congressman Charles Rangel headed the list of public officials at the event which was sponsored by the Keep Patients First, Save our Health Coalition.
Gephardt called the cuts "extreme and mean" and said "better no budget than a bad budget." Rangel, ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, and one of the most outspoken Congressional critics of the Contract on America, said, "We've got to demand more than a veto. We've got to demand a cut in taxes for working people."
Rangel drew cheers and whistles when he said, "We've been fighting people like Newt for years. He may be bigger than the others but that only means we have to get rid of him sooner."
A quarter of the nation's children depend on Medicaid as do one third of all infants under the age of one year. If allowed to stand, the combined cuts in state and federal funding will affect a half million New York children. New York will take the biggest hit of any state under the GOP budget as Congressional cuts come on top of cuts of $200 million in Medicaid funding for 1996 and the promise of further cuts in 1997 and '98 adopted during the last session of the New York Legislature.
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