If a republican came up with that gem of an idea, he'd get the kind of press that... republicans usually get. But when a democratic congress comes up with it, they're courageous for standing up for the underprivileged. Yeah, right.
S-CHIP is the supposedly state-funded children's health insurance program. But the fact is it's supported very heavily by the federal government, and - I believe - administered by the states. The program is used to pay for health care for children whose families are above the poverty level but still have trouble buying insurance. The program has been around since 1997, and was authorized by Congress then as a 10-year program. But it's a program designed to make the states - and the citizens - increasingly dependent on Washington.
States receive a 2:1 (or better) match in federal funds for every dollar spent, encouraging them to spend the maximum in fat years and making it extremely painful to cut in lean years. This is a reasonable compromise for most people, when you consider two details:
S-CHIP is capped by law, unlike Medicaid
The program is meant to protect those left outside the safety net of Medicaid. Currently limited to children in families making 2x the federal poverty level
I don't mean to oversimplify. There's plenty to make everyone uncomfortable with the existing S-CHIP program. And certain provisions are just a joke. But the bill the President vetoed would raise the cap which makes the program palatable and expand the program beyond the group for whom it was intended. There's no doubt that this is the opening legislative salvo in the democrats' war for universal health coverage, and President Bush was right to take a stand here - for a host of reasons.
First, the bill more than doubles the federal budget for the program over ten years, to $60 billion. At the same time, it raises the income cap to 4x the federal poverty level, which would make a family of 4 making $82,500 eligible for government assistance.
That's not even the kicker. The plan is to add a 61-cent tax to a pack of cigarettes to pay for the increase, and the cost of that tax will be disproportionately borne by the poor. So the idea here - as I understand it - is to expand the program by making it available to people who are less needy and by raising taxes on the poor. I guess you can justify anything with the phrase "but it's for the children".
So a veto for this bill is exactly what it deserved as a matter of good fiscal policy and good politics. But as I said earlier, this is just the opening salvo in the war. The House vote was 15 republican votes short of overriding the veto, virtually guaranteeing that it will die - in which case the spin will be that the evil republicans killed a bill to give health care to people who don't have it, regardless of the details. And they will take that spin straight into the election season. If enough republicans cave to the pressure to pass the bill, then the narrative will be that The People overwhelmingly want government-provided health care, without regard for cost or quality.
Now is the time for the leading republican presidential candidates to begin laying down their specific plans as to how health care can be reformed without nationalizing more of it or over-regulating it. If they're not ready to do that, they might as well save their campaign money for 2012.