Congress is currently considering legislation to reauthorize and expand the popular State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which currently insures close to 6 million children. The new proposal would expand “current levels of spending by $35 billion over the next five years” and “reduce the number of uninsured children by 4.1 million.”
Six Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee voted for the SCHIP expansion, which is being heavily opposed by the tobacco industry. But “in an unexpected turn of events,” the conservative leadership announced that it is caving to President Bush’s demands and is objecting to the legislation.
Bush has promised to veto the SCHIP expansion. Today in an event at the Center for American Progress, Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) sharply criticized the veto threat:
Casey: [Bush] wants to give a billion dollars a year of an increase for children’s health insurance, and tens of billions — by one estimate as much as a hundred billion dollars — in tax cuts to wealthy people. … I don’t understand it and we are not going to accept that because fortunately, unlike a lot of things on Capitol Hill, there is bipartisan agreement on this.
Clinton: [I]f he wants to have part of his legacy be vetoing the child health insurance program then we’ll try to override the veto because this is absolutely an imperative. … I just think it’s outrageous and offensive that the President would threaten to veto this legislation.
As Ezra Klein notes, the right-wing objections to SCHIP are “explicitly ideological.” They are based in a right-wing desire to see “as few individuals on government-based insurance as possible.” Conservatives are rallying opposition to children’s health care as “spring training” practice for future battles over universal coverage.
This year, SCHIP marks its 10th anniversary as a bipartisan, federal-state collaboration to improve the nation’s health coverage. Bruce Lesley of First Focus calls SCHIP “the one major healthcare success story over the past 10 years” for providing “cost-effective health coverage to millions of children with coverage that the private market by itself has been unable to provide.” Along with Medicaid, SCHIP has “reduced the proportion and the number of low-income children who are uninsured by about one third since 1997.”
PODESTA: Just because it’s so topical, I would just ask you both to comment on one item we didn’t talk about. But kids who are sick also can’t learn and right now there is a controversy over the bipartisan SCHIP bill that the President has threatened to veto and I wonder if you might want to comment on that since it’s likely to be before the Senate in the very near future.
CLINTON: Absolutely, you know I am very proud to have helped start SCHIP when I was first lady and am very gratified by the fact that it does insure nearly six million children, but we have still about nine million children who are uninsured. And both the House and the Senate are working to expand out coverage.
First of all, we have to reauthorize SCHIP by the first of September. So first and foremost, we have to keep the existing program going, but we all believe that it is important to try to expand its coverage beyond the nearly six million that it covers now because John is absolutely right, as every one of us knows, a child with a physical illness, dental problems, other undiagnosed ailments — behavioral or even mental — is not going to be successful. And it is just wrong for the president to threaten to veto this effort to expand the children’s health insurance program.
So we’re going to do everything we can to pass this program. And if he wants to have part of his legacy be vetoing the child health insurance program then we’ll try to override the veto because this is absolutely an imperative. There are lots of examples of how children are not successful in school because they don’t have access to quality, affordable healthcare. I just think it’s outrageous and offensive that the President would threaten to veto this legislation.
CASEY: To reiterate what Senator Clinton said, I really find it hard to accept the fact that once again the millionaires and the multi- millionaires and the billionaires will get their tax cut this year to the tune of tens of billions of dollars, just in one year. And president has told us is that apparently he believes that the [SCHIP] program is working and it should be reauthorized and should have an increase in funding. But he only wants to give five billion dollars of an increase over five years. So he wants to give a billion dollars a year of an increase for children’s health insurance, and tens of billions — by one estimate as much as a hundred billion dollars — in tax cuts to wealthy people.
I don’t understand it and we are not going to accept that because fortunately, unlike a lot of things on Capitol Hill, there is bipartisan agreement on this and — there are a lot of Republican senators who don’t’ understand — even if they are quite about it, as they sometimes are — they don’t understand why the president has taken this position. So I can’t say how much, I can’t emphasize enough, I should say, how critically important this is, this year, to get this done to make sure we fund it in a way that make sense for children but also makes sense for the health of the country.