Playing Chicken with Children’s Health Care

If there’s anybody left who doubts that “compassionate conservatism” is an Orwellian smokescreen for the same old Republican policies, listen to this:

After promising he’d work on “expanding health care for children,” the President has now unilaterally declared war on a successful, wildly popular program that gives health care to millions of low-income kids.

Democrats see a successful program, S-CHIP, and they see 11 million kids still uninsured in the richest country in the world, and they want to build on what works and expand it. Makes sense, right? But this White House is so hell-bent on denying the Democratic Congress a victory, the President’s threatening to veto health care for kids.

This is the same guy who never met a Republican spending bill he couldn’t sign. Not one. $300 million bridge to nowhere? Pass the pork. Half-trillion dollars on the road to quagmire in Iraq? Bring it on. But a few billion a year for health care for millions of kids? Forget it. Not this President. Not the “compassionate conservative.”

This time the President’s “coalition of the willing” is even more puny: a handful of right-wing ideologues who put half-baked economic theories above the all-too-real health problems of poor children and the bipartisan advice of, well, just about everyone else. Families support it. Doctors support it. Hospitals support it. Many Republican governors support it. Hell, even insurance companies like this bill!

The President still says he’s committed to “expanding health care to children” but his machinations on this issue tell a different story — this is what happens when people who hate government run our government: we get regulators who don’t regulate, “heckuva-job” cronies, and trickle-down tax cuts that leave middle class families feeling trickled on.

For Republicans, this S-CHIP bill is the worst threat of all: a bipartisan bill to expand a government program that actually works, and a chance for this Democratic Congress to deliver. That’s like kryptonite to Republicans, who honestly seem to think that America’s gain would be a Republican loss if it’s passed by a Democratic Congress.

I wasn’t kidding when I said that these guys have declared war on children’s health in this country. The President didn’t just threaten to veto a bill — he’s welching on his promises to governors to fund the programs they put in place. He put up a slew of arbitrary new red-tape for states trying to enroll kids in S-CHIP, but worst of all, he took steps that will actually kick kids off their health insurance in Massachusetts.

After signing deals with states to finance families with incomes up to 300% of poverty, the Administration has now drawn an arbitrary line in the sand at 250% — which sounds like a lot until you realize just how ridiculously low the poverty line is, and how shockingly expensive health care has become. Insurance is up 73% in the last 5 years alone.

Don’t believe me that 250% is too low? Just ask Bush’s former Budget Director, Mitch Daniels. Think 250% of poverty should make you too rich for government to help with your kids’ health insurance? Not in George Bush’s America. It’s $50,000 for a family of four. You know how much that family pays for health insurance? $12,000. Those families aren’t trying to cheat the government. For them it’s S-CHIP or no health care at all. These same families will end up costing everyone more money when their kids end up in the emergency room — which this President seemed to think is a good substitute for health insurance. It’s not compassionate, it’s not really conservative, and it sure as hell isn’t smart.

If we don’t fund children’s health care soon, our kids could lose their coverage. This President is playing a game of chicken with our children. S-CHIP is the kind of program that lets kids get the care that prevents a girl with an earache from losing her hearing, or helps a boy who can’t read so well get the eye exam that lets him know he needs glasses so he can read the chalk board at school.

This may sound corny but it’s true: You can’t put a price tag on having healthy, happy children. I fought hard in the Senate to expand this program by $50 billion, just like the House did. In the end, we didn’t have the votes, and I supported a $35 billion increase as the best option on the table. Lots of Republicans voted for it — people like Orrin Hatch of Utah. That put right-wing hysterics and hucksters in a tough spot: is Orrin Hatch part of a secret plot to socialize medicine? Is Orrin Hatch part of a vast left-wing conspiracy?

Those Republicans willing to stand up and do the right thing threw a wrench in the usual tactics of fear — demonizing good social policies that help real Americans as “socialized” or “European” when actually they’re just smart. But some Republicans would rather cover for the ideologue-in-chief than cover America’s children. It’s time for the rest of the Roadblock Republicans to show some spine and override the President’s veto.

America’s families don’t care where their insurance comes from — parents just want to make sure that when their kids get sick, they’ll get the treatment they need.

Republicans have to stop blocking every bill this Democratic Congress passes. Delay used to be just one thuggish Congressman — now it’s become the Republican way of life. I hope my Republican colleagues will join me and pass a bill that will insure millions of uninsured kids across America. But if they can’t hold their noses and vote with Democrats to do what’s right for America’s kids, at least have the decency to get out of our way.

[Cross posted from the Blog at JohnKerry.com]

Bookmark and Share

Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Playing Chicken with Children’s Health Care

  1. Darrell Prows says:

    The counts I’ve seen say that this one doesn’t make it past the veto. If you can answer how that could be possible, you’re doing better than I am.

    But it clearly helps explain the public opinion of government. At least this time it will be possible to assign responsibility (which, of course, is why it’s so hard to explain what supposedly sharp politicians are thinking).