Sorry Kids, SCHIP Fails Again
To the surprise of no one, the House failed today to override Bush’s veto of , the popular children’s health care program. Foreseeing this inevitability, last month Congress extended current levels of funding until after November’s elections (with a little extra to prevent states from running dry). But anyone who believes the issue won’t resurface in the campaign season didn’t follow last year’s debate very closely.
Indeed, the issue exposes the very heart of the (mostly) partisan ideological controversy over the role of government in providing health coverage.
Central to the administration’s opposition, the bill would have allowed some states to cover children from families with higher incomes than the original State Children’s Health Insurance Program permitted. Supporters say those expansions make sense, particularly in high cost-of-living areas like New York and New Jersey. But Bush and his congressional supporters argue the trend would allow perfectly solvent American families to access federally subsidized coverage at the expense of private insurance markets (though ironically, the insurance industry supported the legislation).
The White House also objected to the funding mechanism (necessary under the Democrats’ self-imposed pay-go rules), which would have hiked the federal per-pack cigarette tax to $1, up from 39 cents. Hoping to distance himself from his father’s reputation, Bush has said repeatedly that a tax increase is off the table.
To the tobacco companies and the strictest free marketers, the veto (and today’s vote to sustain it) constitutes good policy. But the move is a gamble, as a sinking economy, rising health care costs, and the evolution away from employer-sponsored coverage have all conspired to strain an ever-increasing number of the nation’s families in recent years. An estimated 45 million Americans are currently uninsured — about 9 million of them children. Faced with that dismal trend, a large majority of the nation’s governors, Democrats and Republicans alike, had urged the president to approve the bill.
Instead, with the blessing of most House Republicans, he vetoed it. Twice. And Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has long-vowed to use opposition as a tool in his party’s election-year strategy. (Indeed, a high-profile link on the Web site sets “BUSH vs. .”)
From the House floor Wednesday, in a fit of spontaneous wishful thinking, Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) quoted his son: “Dad,” Stark said. “If they don’t pass this health insurance [program], they may fire all the Republicans.”
To that, Stark added: “I’d hate to see that.”