Yesterday, the Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser newspaper ran an editorial in which the writers referred to President Bush’s December veto of a massive expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) as putting him on par with "Scrooge" and "the Grinch." Unfortunately, the authors badly missed the mark on several counts.
In disapproving Congress’s early December SCHIP legislation, President Bush did not veto children’s health care, nor did he prevent reauthorization of the program. What his veto prevented was a wasteful attempt by Congress to expand a flawed program SCHIP by $35 billion, which would have greatly expanded eligibility for the incredibly flawed program – a bad move while there are still many people in this country who are already eligible for the program, but not yet enrolled.
When vetoing Congress’s first attempt to expand the program, President Bush made clear how far above the current levels of SCHIP funding he would be willing to go. Contrary to the editorial, Bush was far from being the only one “not willing to compromise” on the issue. Rather, after meeting the first veto with hysterical rhetoric (like “[Bush] used his cruel veto pen to say '’I forbid 10 million children from getting the health benefits they deserve’” – Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-CA), Congress rewrote the SCHIP expansion – again far larger and more inclusive than the President had requested – and sent it back, again accompanied by hysterical language (like “How many children will be dead” if the President doesn’t sign the SCHIP expansion bill? – Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-TX).
For an issue that was presented as being a matter of life-and-death urgency, the Democrat majority’s decision to schedule the attempt to override Bush’ second veto for January 23 – six full weeks after the President refused the bill – demonstrated both the lack of seriousness on the part of the majority on this issue, and the extend to which this was not a bipartisan effort, despite there having been just enough Republicans voting for the original legislation for the Advertiser’s editors to claim that “a coalition of Democrats and Republicans in Congress supported expanding the program.”
Less than a week after this second veto, Congress sent the President a bill extending the current program until March 31, 2009. Far from being a “short-term extension” which was “cobble[d] together,” this move extended the program far longer than previous bills had. Rather than being the product of a “Grich” President, the sixteen month SCHIP extension was the result of a majority party which, after not getting its way, threw a temper tantrum and passed SCHIP off to the next administration and the 111th Congress.
The claim that a simple extension of SCHIP in its current form will adversely impact Alabama or other states with shortfalls in program funding is an incorrect one, as well, and demonstrates a lack of knowledge on the part of the Advertiser’s editors with regard to the contents of SCHIP extension bill. Rather than needing to “move quickly next year to ensure there is enough money provided to the states that no children who are eligible under current guidelines lose their health insurance,” as the editorial demanded, Congress has already seen to it that “shortfall states” will be covered in the event that they lack the funding to continue their SCHIP-based programs at the current capacity. In the sixteen month extension as passed by both houses of Congress (by a 511-3 majority) and signed by the President, a maximum amount of $1.6 billion is allotted to make up for state funding shortfalls in fiscal year 2008, with an additional $250 million allotted for the first two quarters of FY 2009 (taking the states up to the expiration date of this extension). The impact of the extension on Alabama’s ALL Kids program will be negligible, as funding will be provided should the state meet the shortfall criteria laid out in the bill.
There is no question that SCHIP is a flawed program, which must be addressed in the not-too-distant future. However, simply expanding the program by billions of dollars while leaving its infrastructure intact will serve to exacerbate SCHIP’s problems. When it comes to health care, real solutions are needed, and throwing billions of dollars at SCHIP is not a real solution.
The President’s prudent veto of a foolhardy $35 billion program expansion did not “deny” health care to anybody. In fact, the only group “denied” anything by the end result of the SCHIP debate was the Congressional majority, whose eyes were bigger than their stomachs on this issue, as they traded away an opportunity to make a real change in government-subsidized children’s health care for a chance to score what they thought would be some easy political points against the President and the Republican minority.
Jeff Emanuel is a research fellow for Health Care policy at the Heartland Institute and is managing editor of Health Care News.