U.S. Sen. John Kennedy is mighty upset that people he doesn't deem good parents are having kids. He said so in a Washington Examiner op-ed, which ran last week and raised quite a stir.
"For the life of me, I don’t know why anyone who is an addict would decide to become a parent and bring an innocent child into his or her sick drug den. My only conclusion is that some parents figure someone else will raise their children while they do drugs, drink, party, commit crimes," Kennedy wrote. "Too many people treat parenting like it's the 20th item on their to-do list. Their social life, drug habit, and sleep schedule matter more to them than their children do."
But here's the good news. As a senator, there's something Kennedy can do about the problem. He can champion policies that make it easier to access drug treatment, and that help people who aren't ready or able to raise children prevent pregnancy.
Here are just a few ways.
A senator can defend the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's signature health care law, against efforts by President Donald Trump and the Republican congressional majority to repeal it.
The law requires that health care plans cover substance abuse treatment, so it directly helps parents like the ones Kennedy describes. It has also greatly increased insurance coverage in general, particularly in states such as Louisiana that have expanded Medicaid, which again means more treatment available to more people.
In theory, U.S. senators have six-year terms for a good reasons, one of which is that length…
It also mandates that birth control be covered at no cost to the patient, a provision that has coincided with a statistical drop not only in unplanned pregnancies but also in abortions, which is something an anti-abortion politician such as Kennedy should champion. Not only does this provision keep the full financial burden of preventing pregnancy from falling only on one of two necessary players, it has allowed more women to access pricier but more effective methods such as IUDs.
And there's more. From the Senate, Kennedy could push back against Trump's executive order expanding the universe of employers who can refuse to offer birth control coverage. Religious employers were already exempt, but Trump's order extends the exemption to others who profess moral qualms. That not only cuts off access for those employees, it also effectively forces women to follow their boss's conscience on a deeply personal matter, rather than their own.
And he could fight the ongoing effort to defund Planned Parenthood. The federal government does not fund abortions through Planned Parenthood, but Medicaid does cover all sorts of other treatment that's not always readily available elsewhere. Honestly, the group's mission is right there in its name, and is exactly in line with what Kennedy says he supports.
So what does Kennedy actually propose to do about the problem he so colorfully identified?
Well, to judge by his column, nothing. He offers no policy prescription, just a wagging finger.
"Treat your children like the blessings they are or don’t have them at all," he concludes. "Our foster care system and jails already are at capacity. There’s no more room at the inn."
What could be worse than drinking weed killer?
To judge by his record in his brief time in the Senate and the rhetoric that he employed to get there, again, nothing. Kennedy ran on a claim that he'd rather drink weed killer than support Obamacare, and has voted that way. He hasn't lifted a finger to protect Planned Parenthood or to argue against Trump's contraception order.
Scan the press releases on his web site, and the most on-point idea listed is his pledge to keep his fellow Republicans from stripping the adoption tax credit as they try to overhaul the tax code. Preserving this break would help families who adopt children whose birth parents decide to give them up, which could well include people like those Kennedy describes. But it's hardly enough.
But maybe he's got some other idea up his sleeve, one that's more in line with his conservative politics than what I've suggested. Perhaps even something that could attract support across the aisle. After reading his op-ed, I for one can't wait to hear it.
So, Sen. Kennedy, it's your move.
Unless demonizing struggling people is the only move you've got.