The New York Times
October 5, 2007
Trying to justify his ideologically driven veto of a bill to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, President Bush and his staff have fired a barrage of misinformation about this valuable program. Before the House votes on whether to override the veto, all members — especially those from Mr. Bush’s party who say they are concerned about millions of uninsured children — must look behind the rhetoric.
Mr. Bush stretched the truth considerably when he told an audience in Lancaster, Pa., that he has long been a strong supporter of the S-chip program. “I supported it as governor, and I support it as president of the United States,” he said. As governor of Texas, Mr. Bush fought — unsuccessfully — to restrict the state’s program to children with family incomes up to 150 percent of the poverty level, well below the 200 percent allowed by federal law. As president, he is again trying to shrink the program for the entire country. His proposed five-year budget does not provide enough to continue enrollments at current levels, let alone cover millions of the uninsured.
Mr. Bush’s primary rationales for his veto tend to disintegrate when examined closely. He contends that he wants to refocus the program on the poor — those who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance. Yet the compromise bill approved by both houses would primarily benefit poorer children. It includes various prods and incentives to get states to enroll many more children who are below 200 percent of the poverty level, and projections suggest that a huge majority of children who would be enrolled in the expansion would come from this low-income group.
Perhaps the most eye-catching argument from the president is that the vetoed bill would have allowed S-chip to cover children in families earning $83,000 a year. That claim hangs on the extremely flimsy thread that New York — where insurance and living costs are higher than in many other parts of the country — has proposed extending the eligibility level to 400 percent of poverty, or $82,600 for a family of four. As far as most states are concerned, the bill would discourage covering such children, by allowing the enhanced S-chip match only up to 300 percent of the poverty level.
What’s driving much of the Republican response to the bill is the White House’s contention that expanding S-chip is “an incremental step toward the Democrats’ goal of a government-run health system.” The only word that conforms to reality here is “incremental.” S-chip is a tiny blip in the federal budget compared with Medicare and Medicaid, the giant government-financed health systems. House members need to think hard whether it is worth denying coverage to millions of uninsured children just to keep the blip a little smaller.
The bill primarily reflects a Senate version that was drafted with great care by key members of both parties. It embodies principles that would normally appeal to many conservatives. S-chip is not an entitlement program like Medicare or Medicaid. Instead, it provides block grants to the states, which can curtail enrollment if funds run out. Nor is S-chip permanent. It will need to be reauthorized again in five years, at which time some future Congress and president will be free to have another slugfest. The White House declined overtures to join in consultations while the bill was being framed, according to Senator Charles Grassley, a Republican sponsor. Like so many other things that Mr. Bush has gotten disastrously wrong, he’d already made up his mind and had no interest in listening to others’ arguments.
Now it is up to Congress to show Mr. Bush that such blind partisanship will not be rewarded. For the sake of America’s children, lawmakers must override the veto.