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October 17, 2007

The Shipwreck Known as SCHIP

Kevin E. Dayhoff

In 1997 the Republican controlled Congress enacted the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) - a joint federal and state government initiative that provides low-cost health insurance for children of lower income families.

Specifically targeted were families who cannot afford private health insurance, but do not qualify for Medicaid. Over 6.6 million children were eligible for health insurance under the program.

In his 2008 budget, President George W. Bush proposed to increase SCHIP funding by $5 billion over five years - a 20 percent increase over current levels of funding.

Congress agreed several weeks ago to reauthorize the program with guidelines which would increase the cost $12 billion a year for the next five years - over $60 billion. The expanded coverage would make another four million children eligible, half of which would come from families who already have health insurance.

Funding for the proposal would primarily come from a 61-cent per pack increase in the federal cigarette tax. Of course, Congress understands that this is a relatively "easy" tax increase as there are very few votes in Congress representing tobacco growing states - and cigarette smokers, long since vilified, have essentially no voice.

Economists have quickly pointed out that the funding scheme for the ever-increasing expenditures for health care would be paid for by a declining revenue stream as the ranks of smokers continue to decline. It was noted that the increased expenditures would require adding 20 million more smokers. It doesn't take an economist to understand that this is not realistic and other tax revenues would be needed.

The Democratic leadership delivered the bill to the President's desk on October 2.

President Bush promptly vetoed it on October 3, remarking that, among a number of problems with the bill, the increase is too much. The president said that SCHIP needs to "return to its original focus, which is helping those children in need." The president called on Congress "to pass a responsible SCHIP bill."

Democrats are elated in what they felt to be a fortunate turn of events. The issue of expanding SCHIP is considered a winner with voters in the 2008 election cycle, whether or not they are able to prevail in overriding the president's veto. The sound bite is easy and simple: mean cruel Republicans voted against providing little children adequate access to health care.

This point has been illustrated well by Steve Breen's political cartoon in the San Diego Union-Tribune on October 9, which depicted a donkey caricature talking to wide-eyed children gathered around the campfire: "Then the evil president who hated kids (and probably enjoyed drowning puppies) took his red veto stamp to the SCHIP bill and."

Meanwhile the Democratic congressional leadership said that a showdown would be put off for weeks in order to unleash political pressure from organized labor, liberal grassroots advocates, and left-wing bloggers.

However, many agree with the president who said he "does not believe health coverage for poor children should be held hostage while political ads are being made and new polls are being taken."

The national news media widely reported that Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, "a Republican representing Maryland's 6th District, was the only Maryland representative to side with the president."

Senate President Harry Reid, (D., NV) quickly singled out Congressman Bartlett saying: "I think that representative from Maryland better check very closely how he votes on the veto override, because he's doing something that's going to affect the whole State of Maryland."

Senator Reid then threatened that Congressman Bartlett would be heavily leaned upon by his congressional colleagues from Maryland and by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D).

True to form, the Wurlitzer spin machine got cranked up immediately as many felt that Congressman Bartlett's vote was the key Republican vote in order to override the president's veto.

Congressman Bartlett responded quickly on the day of the president's veto saying, "Nancy Pelosi from San Francisco and Steny Hoyer from the Washington, DC, suburbs are out of touch with the lives of most Americans.

"Only Democrat congressional leaders could demand that a family earning $83,000 a year should qualify for their expanded SCHIP program that Republicans created to help children of the working poor and simultaneously call that same family rich and force them to pay the AMT, Alternative Minimum Tax. It just goes to show that what Democrats really want is to have the government control how to spend the money that American taxpayers earn."

As the news media and left-leaning bloggers began a full court press, Congressman Bartlett observed: "I want to thank Majority Leader Harry Reid for recognizing that I cast the only correct vote about SCHIP in the State of Maryland."

The Baltimore Sun quoted Congressman Bartlett as saying: "I'm proud that I voted to create the SCHIP program in 1997. I want to help the working poor, but Democrats are demanding that SCHIP be expanded to have government-controlled, taxpayer-paid health care for millions of children who already have private health coverage."

Many in the 6th Congressional District support Congressman Bartlett's vote and hope that he remains steadfast. That being said, it is a tough vote for many complicated reasons.

In an ideal world, everything possible needs to be done to ensure that children have access to adequate health care.

Ultimately, as much as many are profoundly unhappy with the current health care delivery system in our country, consensus is that having the government take it over is to go from the frying pan into the fire. Many agree that the current SCHIP legislation is one-step closer to government run health care - which would ultimately - and paradoxically - threaten the health and well-being of all Americans.

Many have lost faith in big government's ability to do anything well and abhor the idea of some faceless bureaucrat making life and death decisions for ourselves, our family - or our community's children.

Congressman Bartlett cast the correct vote. Thank you.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at:

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