As the news was announced that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney had selected Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate my heart sank. Not because Chairman Ryan is a year younger than I am nor because I think he isn’t qualified for the Vice President’s job. I was disappointed because I have studied Ryan’s plans to tackle the budget deficit and I have real concerns that his proposal to rein in federal spending would have a serious negative impact on the health and well-being of our nation’s children – especially those who are most vulnerable.

The numbers are not in dispute. The Ryan budget imposes draconian cuts to both Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), jeopardizing health coverage for up to one-third of our nation’s children who rely on either Medicaid or CHIP for their health insurance. Specifically, Chairman Ryan proposes to slash $810 billion out of Medicaid over the next 10 years and ends the CHIP program through cuts of $28 billion. Further, the Ryan plan repeals the Affordable Care Act, stopping the progress our nation is making toward the promise of affordable private sector coverage for all Americans. And Ryan redirects $1.4 trillion that would be invested to improve our nation’s health toward additional tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Eviscerating Medicaid not only endangers the health of our nation’s most vulnerable children it also threatens our future prosperity. Medicaid plays an essential role in covering almost 30 million children, especially important as families struggle with the downturn in the economy. Together with CHIP, Medicaid has been enormously successful in providing access to health services to more than one-third of our nation’s children. From vaccinations, well-child check-ups, and care for asthma and other chronic conditions, ear infections, eyeglasses and wheelchairs, to dental care and prenatal care for expectant mothers, Medicaid makes sure that kids get the services they need to grow, develop, and go to school ready to learn. By every measure, Medicaid is a critical lifeline for children, who constitute about 50 percent of the beneficiaries, but only about 20 percent of the costs. The bottom-line is that if Ryan’s plan ever was to see the light of day all progress on children’s health care coverage would come to a halt and the uninsured rate for America’s children would likely double or triple in the matter of just a few years.

While tackling the national debt is certainly an important matter, it should not be done in a way that slashes the fundamental investments children require to reach their full potential as healthy and productive citizens. Nearly one-quarter of our children live in poverty, one in four are at-risk of hunger, and nearly 10 million lack health insurance. Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” budget blueprint does not secure the promise of a brighter future for our next generation. Now is simply not the time to mess with the safety net systems our kids rely on.

Our federal budget is often said to reflect our nation’s priorities. Rather than putting children at enormous risk in the name of deficit reduction, the future of our nation dictates that we return to some simple basics. That means protecting and ensuring the health and safety of our nation’s children, protecting them from harsh economic times, and helping them develop their God-given potential. Ryan’s budget proposal fails to achieve these most basic functions, and instead, places children directly in harm’s way. As this campaign season unfolds, there will be a lot more conversation about our national priorities. I urge all of our nation’s leaders to do right by kids. Protecting our nation’s most precious resource will never be an investment we regret. But the fact of the matter is we simply can’t afford the alternative.