President Bush has vetoed only three bills in the last seven years. One vetoed bill would have hastened the U.S. withdrawal from the disastrous civil war in Iraq. The other two would have expanded federally funded stem-cell research, which may hold promise of cures for devastating illnesses.
Now, the president is poised to issue his fourth veto. This time, the losers will be the nation's poorest children, who stand to lose federally funded health care. Is this compassionate conservatism? Many members of the president's own party don't seem to think so.
The State Children's Health Insurance Program covers lower-income children whose families don't qualify for Medicaid but who still can't afford health insurance. The program will expire today.Bush has proposed a $5 billion increase in SCHIP over the next five years. But his administration's own projections are that SCHIP would need a $9 billion increase just to maintain current levels of coverage.
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate approved a bill that would increase SCHIP funding by $12 billion annually for the next five years. The measure passed with bipartisan support in both houses. It was approved 67-29 in the Senate, and 265-159 in the House. Colorado's senators and representatives split along party lines.
Bush has steadfastly threatened to veto the bill, which he tacitly equates with socialized medicine. Discussing the proposed SCHIP expansion this summer, Bush clarified his opposition this way: "I mean, people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room."
That blasÃƒ© attitude toward the health of children helps to explain why the president's budget request would have, effectively, cut the existing program. The bill approved by Congress would be a modest expansion of children's health-care coverage.
On Friday, Bush maintained his commitment to veto the bill. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the differences between the president and Congress is not "about who cares about children more than the other."
"The president is saying, 'Let's take care of the neediest children first, let's not put scarce federal dollars toward a program that was meant for the poorest children and let it creep up to middle-income families with incomes up to $83,000 a year,'" Perino said.
As CNN noted, she is touchy about the obvious implications of Bush's stance: "I think it is preposterous for people to suggest the president of the United States doesn't care about children, that he wants children to suffer," Perino said.
It is not, however, preposterous to suggest that the president uses children's health as a political pawn. When it suited his political purposes, the president championed a massive expansion in Medicare, the prescription-drug coverage for senior citizens. Having orchestrated a massive increase in some federal entitlements, he now proposes a sharp retraction of others. But this time, the damage won't be confined to the federal budget; it will be exacted on kids.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, was among those who defied the president. "It's very difficult for me to be against a man I care so much for," Hatch said last week. "It's unfortunate that the president has chosen to be on what, to me, is clearly the wrong side of this issue."
Rigid partisans see the SCHIP expansion as a prelude to a government-run health-care initiative. It might well be. And so what? Congress would have to OK any such measure.
Instead of taking that risk and debating each issue on its own merits, the president is poised to withhold health care from 6 million young people. That is a shame. And it is shameful.
Clint Talbott, for the editorial board.
© 2006 Daily Camera and Boulder Publishing, LLC.