Last week, President Bush vetoed a bipartisan bill to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. The bill would expand health care coverage to uninsured children and to children whose families are hard-pressed to afford private insurance.
Unusually, the president vetoed the bill in private with no media present. This is not surprising given the immense popularity of the bill. The widespread support for the bill is evidenced by the fact that the Senate has passed its version of the bill with a bipartisan majority large enough to override a presidential veto. The House is only 25 votes short of a two-thirds majority.
Sadly, the reasons that President Bush has cited for vetoing the bill — reasons echoed by those Republicans who oppose the bill — are false and uninformed.
“I believe in private medicine. I believe in helping poor people, which was the intent of SCHIP, now being expanded beyond its initial intent. I also believe that the federal government should make it easier for people to afford private insurance. I don’t want the federal government making decisions for doctors and customers,” Bush said. “The policies of the government ought to be to help poor children and to focus on poor children, and the policies of the government ought to be to help people find private insurance, not federal coverage.”
What the president does not realize — or has chosen not to acknowledge — is the fact that through SCHIP, children are enrolled in private insurance. The bill is not about federalizing medicine. Many of the additional children who would be enrolled under the bill are already eligible. A major feature of the bill is simplifying enrollment procedures so that those children who are eligible but not enrolled can receive the health insurance coverage that was intended for them. The bill also puts a cap on the income eligibility of families — three times the federal poverty level or approximately $60,000 for a family of four. Bush’s claim that families making up to $83,000 could enroll in SCHIP is simply false.
The president also claimed that he supports policies to help poor children and to help people afford private insurance. Yet he is in favor of alternatives to the SCHIP bill which would leave many of America’s children uninsured.
One senator who opposes the bill did so partly on account of the fact that some adults (though not very many) are covered as well. This is true, but many of these adults are pregnant mothers. In this case, the beneficiary of SCHIP is not some adult to who is trying to take advantage of the system, but rather a pregnant woman and her unborn child.
The most striking claim that the president and opposed Republicans have made, though, is that this bill is just a brainchild of the Democrats. This could not be farther from the truth. Many of the negotiations for the bill have been spearheaded by Republicans from states as diverse as Iowa, Utah and Oregon. Children’s health is not a partisan issue, as some have tried to make it out to be.
One of Bush’s final reasons for not supporting the bill is that it exceeds his budget preferences by $23 billion. When it comes to funding the bill, though, even a representative from the libertarian Cato Institute points out that Bush’s assertions have little backing. The amount of new spending is negligible when compared to that frequently supported or even requested by Bush for stereotypically Republican projects. Bush, says the representative from the Cato Institute, seems opposed to new spending only when the spending is associated with a Democratic end.
The House will re-vote on the bill in approximately two weeks. In the meantime, Republicans and Democrats are working passionately to round up the 15 to 25 additional votes needed to override the presidential veto. You can do your part as well. It only takes five minutes to write an e-mail to your representative.
Children’s health insurance should not be subject to misinformed testimony or partisanship. Instead it should be marked by intelligent policy-making grounded in common sense. Children, however, do not have a vote. Rather, they rely on us to advocate for them.
Cari Carson is a senior in Saybrook College.