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What can we do with $50 billion?

Apparently, George W. Bush doesn't want the $50 billion the House offered for his wars if it means having a plan to actually end what he started in Iraq.

So maybe we should consider it an early holiday present. Just think of what else we might do with that money while giving thanks today for the president's obstinacy:

* $50 billion would pay for an extra 1,183,151,900 Thanksgiving dinners for hungry Americans. That's based on this year's $42.26 cost for turkey and all the fixins', as estimated by the American Farm Bureau Federation.

In fact, we could feed all of the nation's hungry today -- and for countless days to come.

"Fifty billion would do a heck of a lot for people, wouldn't it?" Maj. George Polarek, director of the local Salvation Army, mused when the question was posed to him.

The charity expects to feed about 350 people at its holiday meal today. Overall, it will help more than 75,000 Western New Yorkers this year with food, shelter and other necessities.

About $1.1 million will come from donations to the Red Kettles outside Tops markets and other sites, Polarek said. But part of the $4.2 million annual budget also comes from Washington, through the county's social services pipeline, to help Western New Yorkers who are trying to help themselves.

"The working poor are the people who are showing up at many of the [charities'] doors," Polarek said. "Some of them just need that little extra help to make it over the hump."

It's the same story at Catholic Charities, where spokeswoman Rose Caldwell said the downtown Buffalo office gave emergency assistance to 11,153 people through the end of October. Just like at the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities' monthly average is running slightly higher than a year ago, and it's the working poor who are showing up.

It's reached the point where just handing out a personal care packet -- soap, shampoo etc. -- can bring a smile to a person's face, Caldwell said.

Imagine the joy if the war money were redirected to something even more substantive, like the low-income heating assistance program so they wouldn't have to choose between paying the rent and paying the utility bill.

* Or what could $50 billion do for the 47 million Americans -- including 2.8 million New Yorkers -- without health insurance? That figure would be deemed a national disgrace in any other industrialized country, but it's one we swallow along with the canard that anything else would amount to "socialized medicine." Funny, no one ever asks Bush or members of Congress how they feel about their "socialized" health care funded by taxpayers.

* If we don't care about adults, how about children? What could $50 billion do for the 16,500 kids in Erie and Niagara counties who don't have health insurance? They are among 9 million American children who'll be thankful if they don't get sick today.

Coincidentally or not, $50 billion is the amount congressional Democrats originally sought to help cover those kids. They compromised that down to $35 billion -- and even that lesser amount was vetoed.

Head Start. Crumbling roads and bridges. Border security. Worker retraining. Social Security and Medicare. Take your pick as to how best to spend $50 billion we apparently have but can't find a use for. And be thankful Washington hasn't agreed yet to send it to Iraq and Afghanistan.

But mostly be thankful it means fewer families -- like three here this month -- might have to fear that knock on the front door and see a military officer bearing news no family should have to hear, today or any other day.

e-mail: rwatson@buffnews.com

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