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Health Last Updated: Sep 27th, 2007 - 01:04:13


S-CHIP veto: The millstone around Bush's neck
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Sep 27, 2007, 01:01

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"But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." --Matthew 18:6

In what can only be regarded as a political stunt to deny congressional Democrats a legislative victory at the expense of children, President Bush has threatened to veto the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) reauthorization bill, despite passage by large bipartisan majorities in both Houses of Congress.

Tuesday night, the House voted 265-159 to pass a Senate version of the S-CHIP reauthorization bill that allocates $5 billion a year to provide coverage for up to 4 million additional children who lack health care coverage.

In all, passage of the bill would guarantee coverage to about 10 million children. (The Census Bureau estimates that even with 6 million children currently covered by S-CHIP, about 8 million US children lack health insurance.)

In July, the Senate voted 68-30 to pass the bill, and when the bill is reconsidered today, it is expected to pass with 69 votes.

In her speech on the House floor, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reminded the House that the legislation was about children's health not political tactics or scoring partisan points.

Speaker Pelosi said, "That of the 4 million additional children covered, 67 percent of those children are minority children."

She said that they "are children from families that are working hard, playing by the rules, lifting themselves out of poverty. They are the working poor in America." But she added, "They simply don't make enough money to afford the private health insurance that S-CHIP enables them to do."

Pelosi stated that 72 percent of the people who receive assistance from S-CHIP purchase private insurance.

Speaker Pelosi expressed her belief that misrepresentations about the bill such as the White House's claim that the bill seeks to divert working families from private insurance programs, a claim echoed by some congressional Republicans, were "unwitting" misrepresentations rather than deliberate attempts to mislead Congress and the people about children's health care.

"How could it not be so?" she asked. We have a moral responsibility to care for our children. Who would dissemble or play politics with our children's futures? Pelosi wondered.

Pelosi expressed strong hope that President Bush would not veto the bill. She referred to the Biblical story of Jesus admonishing his disciples against preventing some children to meet him and receive his blessings. In that story, Jesus used the phrased "suffer the little children" to order his followers to allow the children to come forward to him.

Speaker Pelosi said, if Bush vetoes the bill, he would "give new meaning to the words, 'suffer the little children.' Suffer little children if your parents can't afford health insurance," she said.

Pelosi added, "I would hope that the president would have had a change of heart and mind since he was governor of Texas." According to her, when Bush was governor, Texas ranked 49th in providing health care through S-CHIP, but was still far behind in families who could afford private insurance without assistance.

Veto in Latin means "I forbid," Pelosi said. If Bush insists on vetoing this bill, he would be saying, "I forbid struggling families in America to have health care for their children. I forbid every child to be treated the same if they have an ailment."

Pelosi reminded the House that the bipartisan US Conference of Mayors, 43 governors of both parties, and hundreds of organizations from the American Medical Association to health care advocacy groups to private insurance groups to the YMCA have backed passage of the bill.

Even two-thirds of Republicans in recent polls, Pelosi said, support the reauthorization of S-CHIP.

"Everyone who has anything to do with or cares about children in our country knows that this bill is the way to go," Pelosi stated.

"Why does the president want to isolate himself from caring for America's children?" Pelosi wondered.

In his speech to the House, Majority Leader Stenny Hoyer (D-MD) saw the crux of the dispute as one of ideology. "Will you stand with millions of American children, who through no fault of their own have no health insurance? Or will you stand with the few . . . who are ideologically opposed to this legislation?" he asked the House.

Leader Hoyer reminded his colleagues that President Bush in his acceptance speech at the 2004 Republican Party national convention promised to use every means to expand the S-CHIP rolls.

Hoyer quoted Bush as saying, "In a new term, we will lead an aggressive effort to enroll millions of children who are eligible but not signed up for government health insurance programs."

"We, tonight, are going to give him that opportunity to fulfill that promise to the American public," Hoyer affirmed.

Staring down fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party, Hoyer said, "You voted on a prescription drug program far more expensive than this, and unpaid for."

He warned that President Bush's proposal would actually cut 800,000 children from the S-CHIP rolls.

The bill does not change eligibility, Hoyer clarified. It only strengthens the program's finances and expands efforts to enroll uninsured children. Hoyer rejected White House assertions that the program would encourage families to leave private insurance for S-CHIP as a fundamental misunderstanding of how the program works.

"We need to come together and see how [our universal concern for America's children] can be transformed into meaningful, tangible help." Hoyer exhorted his colleagues. "Let's seize this opportunity. Let's do the right thing. Let's stand with America's children," he concluded.

In a press conference earlier, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) a co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate, accused President Bush of not fully understanding the bill or at least receiving bad advice about it. Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch (UT) concurred with Grassley's assessment.

Reach Joel Wendland at jwendland@politicalaffairs.net.

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