2007-10-26 / Columnists

Meeks'Message From Capitol Hill

The President's Team May Not Want to Go Up Against the SCHIP Coalition Again
Comment By Congressman Gregory Meeks

GREGORY MEEKS GREGORY MEEKS We all know that football season is in full swing. The Giants are doing well ? the Jets not so well. When you review the schedule at the beginning of the season you can predict some of the big games, but what makes football or any sport so exciting are the unpredictable big games. A team that experts wrote off before the season may even emerge as a playoff contender. What that team does shapes the overall season. Well, it's still too early in the season to say whether or not such a team will emerge in pro football this year. But, it certainly seems to be the case in college football. All of the top pre-season choices have been beaten once or twice already. Teams sports analysts said would be okay have, in fact, moved to the top of the rankings.

A similar dynamic has unfolded this fall in the Congress. When we reconvened in early September, members on both sides of the aisle would have easily predicted the top issues. For sure, Iraq war funding would have been at the top of their lists. And for sure, it has been a key issue. But, I doubt that any of us would have predicted that the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which I've previously written about, would emerge as the contentious issue that it has become, let alone as a contender.

Both the House and Senate enacted a bipartisan compromise version of SCHIP overwhelmingly; the Senate by a veto-proof majority, the House by a sizeable margin, but about 25 votes short of the two-thirds majority required to override President Bush's threatened veto.

Early this month, Mr. Bush carried out his threat. Last week, the House came within 13 votes of overriding it. But, like an up-andcomer that a Super Bowl caliber team barely defeats and would really rather not face again, the President and his Republican congressional allies will have to contend with SCHIP again.

Last month, the House and Senate passed a temporary extension of the program. The bipartisan majority coalition that has crafted a bipartisan compromise to extend and expand SCHIP for five years is going to bring it up later this fall. It's important to understand from its inception, SCHIP has always had bipartisan support. It was created on a bipartisan basis. That can be said of very few other pieces of legislation.

President Bush says any version of SCHIP that is similar to the one he vetoed will meet the same fate. He may very well do that, which will be a statement of just how far out of touch he is with the American public.

After all, 81 percent of the public supports enactment of the bipartisan compromise. This includes 70 percent of Republicans. But, what remains to be seen is whether a month or so from now, only 44 out of 202 Republican members of the House of Representatives will support a clearly and incontestably bipartisan bill providing health care insurance for children in families that earn less than 250 percent of the federal poverty line. Those 158 House Republicans may not want to play against SCHIP again.

As matters stand, it's hard to understand why so many of my Republican colleagues chose to stick with a stubborn president on something as basic as children's health care.

The president justifies his veto by calling the bipartisan bill "socialized medicine," "a government run program," "an effort to permit middle class families to leave private plans and join the government dole," and "too expensive." House Republican leaders say, "me, too."

Neither the president or the House Republicans who voted to sustain his veto bothered to explain why, if this were so, are key conservative Republican senators chief architects of the compromise, or why 18 of 49 Republican senators voted for SCHIP.

Mr. Bush says he wants "to provide health care for poor children." Seven years in office and he's failed to do that.

It's the height of hypocrisy for the president and the party that claimed for so long to speak for the middle class to stop middle class children whose parents can't afford private health care insurance from accessing health care provided by private carriers who are paid with federal-state dollars.

As to cost, the Administration spends $333 million a day in Iraq. SCHIP would cost $19 million a day. And while the amount President Bush proposed for SCHIP would not even cover all the children who are currently enrolled in the program, he has had no hesitation in demanding an additional $46 billion in Iraq war funding, which brings his total supplemental war funding request to over $196 billion just for 2008.

It's noteworthy that most of the 18 Republican senators who supported SCHIP are up for reelection next year. With 265 members of the House, 68 senators, the AMA, the AARP, 43 governors, many private health care providers, most newspapers, and an overwhelming majority of the public outraged over the failure of enough Republicans to join Democrats in voting to override the president's veto, with continued pressure, a dozen or so more House Republicans may choose to change teams before the Administration goes up against the bipartisan SCHIP coalition again.

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