President Bush today vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have dramatically expanded children's health insurance, saying Congress should send him a version that will cost less and zero in on low-income families.
It was only the fourth veto of Bush's presidency, and some Republicans fear this one could reflect badly on their party in next year's elections.
As well it should. This was a widely-supported effort, and it passed both the House and Senate easily, receiving Republican and well as Democratic support. Unfortunately the House support doesn't appear large enough to override this veto. Hopefully we can change that in the next election.
Update: Associated Press is reporting..
"Congress will fight hard to override President Bush's heartless veto," vowed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Republican leaders expressed confidence they have enough votes to make the veto stick in the House, and not a single senior Democrat disputed them. A two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress is required to override a veto.
and NPR is offering this primer to the SCHIP legislation, with the following explanation:
[B]ackers of the measure, who are working to override the veto, say the president doesn't understand how the bill would actually work.
At issue is the State Children's Health Insurance Program, known as SCHIP. It currently covers about 6 million children in families that earn too much to qualify for the Medicaid program for the poor, but not enough to afford their own, private health insurance. The bill the president vetoed would have added $35 billion to the program over the next five years -- enough to cover about 10 million children total.
"I believe in private medicine," Bush told an audience in Lancaster, Penn., on Wednesday morning. "I believe in helping poor people, which was the intent of SCHIP, now being expanded beyond its initial intent. I also believe that the federal government should make it easier for people to afford private insurance. I don't want the federal government making decisions for doctors and customers."
Not Administered by the Government
But SCHIP isn't the kind of program where government officials make medical decisions. Under SCHIP, children are enrolled in private health insurance.
Apparently Bush vetoed this legislation with an incomplete understanding of how the program works.
-- resume original post --
The State Children's Health Insurance Program is a joint state-federal effort that subsidizes health coverage for 6.6 million people, mostly children, from families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford their own private coverage. The legislation would have added $35 billion to the program over five years and added about 3.8 million children.
It would have been funded by raising the federal cigarette tax by 61 cents, to $1 per pack.
The President had vowed to veto it, saying it would provide subsidized health care to children from middle-income families who can afford private insurance.
Can't have any breaks for middle-income families, now can we? Especially one funded by a cigarette tax that doesn't even impact our national budget. No sir, Mr. President. The Republicans only give breaks to the very rich who can afford to pay full-boat for their children's health care insurance.
Note that Bush said (in the first paragraph quoted above) that he's looking for a bill that cost less. In fact, this bill actually had a positive effect on the deficit.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains:
New Congressional Budget Office estimates show that by 2012, a total of 3.8 million children who otherwise would be uninsured would have health care coverage under the bipartisan agreement reauthorizing the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) developed by House and Senate negotiators.[...]
The CBO estimates show that 2.5 million of these children are uninsured children who already would be eligible for SCHIP or Medicaid under the current eligibility rules that states have set for these programs. Another 700,000 are SCHIP children who otherwise would lose their coverage in coming years and end up uninsured, because states would (under the "budget baseline" that CBO uses) receive insufficient federal SCHIP funding to sustain their existing programs.
CBO consequently estimates that a total of about 3.2 million of these 3.8 million children -- or 84 percent of them -- are children who have incomes below the current eligibility limits that states have set.
Only about 600,000 of the 3.8 million children who otherwise would be uninsured are children who would gain eligibility as a result of actions their states would take to broaden their SCHIP eligibility criteria. (All of these figures represent CBO's estimates of the number of children who would be covered in an average month in 2012.)
Key elements of the bipartisan agreement would extend the SCHIP program for five years and raise SCHIP funding levels both to enable states to sustain existing children's enrollment and to cover more low-income children. The agreement also would provide financial incentives to states to enroll more uninsured children who are already eligible for Medicaid or SCHIP. According to CBO, the various provisions to maintain and expand children's health coverage would cost $34.9 billion over five years, with these costs fully offset by an increase in federal tobacco taxes. In fact, the CBO estimates show the bill would reduce the deficit by $1.4 billion over the next five years.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis quoted and linked above shoots the Republican talking points out of the water completely. Fact -- this was legislation that should have been signed, and the House and Senate leadership should hold their ground and fight this veto and make the Republlicans who refuse to stand up for our poor children defend their position to their constituency.
There is simply no good justification to not have passed this bill other than the usual Republican concern for their tobacco lobbyist pals.
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