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Posted by on Oct 18, 2007 in At TMV | 11 comments

S-CHIP: Battle Lost, But On To the War

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An effort to override President Bush’s veto of a $35 billion, five-year expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program fell short today in a 273-156 vote in the House of Representatives. While that outcome was expected, it is only one lost battle in what is shaping up to be a helluva war.

The bill had passed the Democratic-controlled Senate and House with substantial Republican support, an acknowledgement that the health-care crisis in America has crossed the tracks from the poor side of town and reached into the beleaguered middle class.

The latest polls show that an overwhelming majority of Americans, including about 70 percent of Republicans, support expanding the program to include more middle-class families, which has moved Republicans who not long ago would have opposed such a measure to sign on.

Despite seven years of runaway spending by the White House and a war in Iraq that has drained $450 billion from the national Treasury, Bush used his veto pen for only the fourth time in rejecting the bill. Thumbing his nose at the larger reality that he yet again was hurting the very people he claims to protect, the president asserted that the expansion was too expensive and an end-run toward government-subsidized national health care.

Eighteen Republicans in the Senate and 45 in the House had voted for the bill. But in the end no Republicans broke with Bush to change their nay votes and one changed his vote to nay. The override attempt fell 137 votes short of the necessary two-thirds majority.

The S-CHIP program currently covers about 6 million children whose parents earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but can’t afford private health insurance. The expanded program would have extended eligibility to about 4 million more children through a 61-cent-per-pack increase in the federal tax on cigarettes.

The president has signaled that he might agree to a less expensive expansion and while the Democratic leadership has refused to commit on a compromise, there may be negotiations on one since the current funding extension for the program expires in mid-November.

The fact that no few Republicans changed their minds is a victory for the lame-duck president, but it is an empty one for his party because representatives like James Saxton of New Jersey who had what were considered safe seats may be fighting for their political lives next year.

Saxton offered perhaps the lamest reason for sticking with his nay vote in saying that a campaign led by a coalition of labor unions and liberal groups targeting he and other Republicans was “purely political.”

Representative Pete Stark, the California Democrat, won the prize for the most tasteless remark in claiming of Republicans: “You don’t have money to fund the war or children. But you’re going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the President’s amusement.”

Obscured by the uproar over Graeme Frost and his family was that several big health-care groups lobbied hard for the bill, including America’s Health Insurance Plans, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the American Medical Association (AMA). This put the lie to the view that the bill was a Trojan horse for government-run healthcare.

This formidable line-up not only gave Democrats cover, but will serve them well heading into 2008 — or at least better had considering their do-nothing image, abysmal public approval ratings and allergy to dealing decisively with the Iraq war.

Most Republican presidential candidates have offered only bromides about how they will deal with the health-care crisis, while straw-man arguments like those used by conservative Republicans to defeat the S-CHIP expansion will be less likely to win the day.

As those lobbying groups recognize, the need for health-care reform in America has become so urgent that the people who have blocked reform year in and year out will be confronted with having to get on board what are likely to be only modest reforms or get trampled.

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