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Archive for Thursday, September 27, 2007

SCHIP veto is political poison for GOP

September 27, 2007

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— The spectacle Tuesday of 151 House Republicans voting in lock step with the White House against expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) was one of the more remarkable sights of the year. Rarely do you see so many politicians putting their careers in jeopardy.

The bill they opposed, at the urging of President Bush, commands healthy majorities in both the House and Senate but is headed for a veto because Bush objects to expanding this form of safety net for the children of the working poor. He has staked out that ground on his own, ignoring or rejecting the pleas of conservative senators such as Chuck Grassley and Orrin Hatch, who helped shape the compromise that the House approved and that the Senate endorsed.

SCHIP has been one of the most successful health care measures created in the past decade. It was started in 1997 with support from both parties, in order to insure children in families with incomes too high to receive Medicaid, but without the wealth to afford private insurance.

The $40 billion spent on SCHIP in the past 10 years financed insurance for roughly 6.6 million youngsters a year. The money was distributed through the states, which were given considerable flexibility in designing their programs. The insurance came from private companies, at rates negotiated by the states.

Governors of both parties - 43 of them, again including conservatives such as Sonny Perdue of Georgia - have praised the program. And they endorsed the congressional decision to expand the coverage to an additional 4 million youngsters, at the cost of an additional $35 billion over the next five years. The bill would be financed by a 61-cent-a-pack increase in cigarette taxes.

If ever there was a crowd-pleaser of a bill, this is it. Literally hundreds of organizations - grass-roots groups ranging from AARP to United Way of America and the national YMCA - have called on Bush to sign the bill. America's Health Insurance Plans, the largest insurance lobbying group, endorsed the bill on Monday.

But Bush insists that SCHIP is "an incremental step toward the goal of government-run health care for every American" - an eventuality he is determined to prevent.

Bush's adamant stand may be peculiar to him, but the willingness of Republican legislators to line up with him is more significant. Bush does not have to face the voters again, but these men and women will be on the ballot in just over a year - and their Democratic opponents will undoubtedly remind them of their votes.

Two of their smartest colleagues - Heather Wilson of New Mexico and Ray LaHood of Illinois - tried to steer them away from this political self-immolation, but had minimal success. The combined influence of White House and congressional leadership - and what I would have to call herd instinct - prevailed.

Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, argued that "rather than taking the opportunity to cover the children that cannot obtain coverage through Medicaid or the private marketplace, this bill uses these children as pawns in their cynical attempt to make millions of Americans completely reliant upon the government for their health care needs."

In his new book, former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan wrote that his fellow Republicans deserved to lose their congressional majority in 2006 because they let spending run out of control and turned a blind eye to misbehavior by their own members. Now, those Republicans have given voters a fresh reason to question their priorities - or their common sense.

Saying no to immigration reform and measures to shorten the war in Iraq may be politically defensible, because there are substantial constituencies who question the wisdom of those bills - and who favor alternative policies. But the Bush administration's arguments against SCHIP - the cost of the program and the financing - sound hollow at a time when billions more are being spent in Iraq with no end in sight.

Bush's alternative - a change in the tax treatment of employer-financed health insurance - has some real appeal, but it is an idea he let languish for months after offering it last winter. And, in the judgment of his fellow Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee, Bush's plan is too complex and controversial to be tied to the renewal of SCHIP.

This promised veto is a real poison pill for the GOP.

- David Broder is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

Comments

SettingTheRecordStraight 7 years ago

Do not expand the size and reach of government. Do not expand SCHIP.

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staff04 7 years ago

Coupla things I thought interesting:

So no one accuses me of being less than objective in this post--8 Southern Democrats also voted against the bill because of the increase in tobacco taxes. Broder should have mentioned this. They voted to protect business interests over kids, and I don't know how that is going to fly in their mostly poor districts. I think they are equally vulnerable to getting the axe in 2008.

Rep. Terry Everett will retire at the end of the term, becoming the ninth Republican incumbent to forgo re-election next year. He voted against the bill as well as the other 8 who have announced they will not return. They got nothing to worry about.

For the rest of them, I agree with Broder. People are starting to recognize the true costs of the compassion they were promised. Maybe Jack Murtha was right a few weeks ago when he predicted that Democrats would pick up 40 seats in 2008...

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Mkh 7 years ago

I haven't been watching this specfic bill that closely, but I remember someone speaking several weeks ago about it and he made an interesting point. I can't remember who it was that said it; but, they were now opposed to the plan after being originally for it. The reason the Congressman gave was that the proposed expansion of the program was actually going to limit the benefits that were intened for the lowest income kids. His argument was that they expanded it too high up the income ladder to kids whose parents probably didn't desperately need the assistance and therefore they were short-changing the lowest income familes.

If this point is actually true, I think it is worth considerable thought concerning this issue.

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staff04 7 years ago

Re: my previous post:

I spoke too soon. Jim Ramstad, who announced his retirement, voted in favor of reauthorizing SCHIP.

Mkh, one of the big talking points against the bill was that it would expand coverage to households making up to $60,000/year. Those opposed to covering these kids are taking something way out of context to get to that figure. The program is based on the federal poverty level, which does not take into account costs of living. Each state has some discretion in determining what level above the FPL they will cover, with a baseline of 200%. The example I used on another thread is New Jersey, where the median household income is around $80,000 per year. If you consider the cost of living there, most would judge this to be lower-middle class. New Jersey covers children in households up to 350% of the FPL, based on this.

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toefungus 7 years ago

The Republicans have allowed the issue to out grow them. Yes, government health care will be a disaster, but government insurance might be workable. Flood insurance is government. So is unemployment insurance. Both are mandatory if you employee people or build in a flood plain. The issue to me is the lack of leadership on the part of the Republicans. They controlled both the branches of government, and failed to shape this issue to their liking. So, it will be shaped without them. This is the same thing the Republicans did right before the new deal. The new deal was a fiscal disaster which we are paying for today (Social Security Shortfall, Anyone?) History will repeat itself. I guess being conservative means you rarely plan for changes; even in public opinion.

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