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Anger over Bush's veto of children's health care

By Elizabeth Schulte | October 12, 2007 | Page 16

WHEN GEORGE Bush vetoed funding for children's health insurance last week, he was fighting for the "American way."

At least that's what he and fellow Republicans like Rudolph Giuliani say.

"The American way is not single-payer, government-controlled anything," said Giuliani, after Bush's veto of legislation that would have increased funding to the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). "That's a European way of doing something; that's frankly a socialist way of doing something."

But Democrats in Congress say the fight isn't over. They've scheduled a House vote to override Bush's veto for October 18. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi estimates she needs fewer than 15 Republicans to get the two-thirds margin needed. In the Senate, the first vote on SCHIP won by enough a margin to overcome the veto.

SCHIP covers children whose families are ineligible for Medicaid, but don't have enough money to pay for private health insurance. Without exception, the Republican presidential candidates applauded Bush's "brave stand" against a measure that would extend coverage to uninsured children.

Sen. John McCain voted against the bill, calling it "a dangerous step toward government-run health care insurance."

Mitt Romney agreed, and used the opportunity to take aim at a few other federal programs he must also consider to be tainted with "socialism." "I also believe we're gong to need to reform some of our most basic programs in this country, to make them more viable long term: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, among those programs," he told a Kansas City Star reporter.

Fred Thompson didn't need to say what he thought--since he opposed SCHIP back in 1997 when it was created.

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RATHER THAN representing "creeping socialism" or even a European-style single-payer insurance plan, SCHIP attempts to improve the lives of the millions of kids who fall between the cracks of the Medicaid health program for the poor and the patchwork employer-based insurance system, leaving them with no health coverage at all.

In fact, children covered by SCHIP still largely depend on private health care providers.

The Bush administration says that if SCHIP is expanded, the wrong people will get assistance. But about half of children are enrolled in SCHIP after they lost some form of private health insurance--for instance, because a parent lost a job, or an employer dropped dependents from health care coverage.

SCHIP currently covers households with an income up to two-and-a-half times the federal poverty level, or $51,625 for a family of four. The congressional bill would have increased the income cap to three times the poverty line, or $61,950 for a four-person family.

Under the legislation, funding for the $5 billion-a-year program would expand by an average of $7 billion a year over the next five years. Supporters of the bill estimate this extra $35 billion would reduce the number of uninsured children--which stands today at about 9 million--by almost half.

The $35 billion increase was a compromise from the initial proposal of adding $50 billion to SCHIP over five years. But Bush proposes to add just $5 billion over five years.

This after the administration already started slicing and dicing SCHIP this summer. In August, as members of Congress were in discussions on how to improve the program, the administration changed the rules for SCHIP, making it harder for states to expand eligibility.

No wonder at least some congressional Republicans are openly opposing the administration. "Look, I disagree with the [White House] legislative staff on all of this," said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a key negotiator on the SCHIP bill. "Frankly, I think the president has had pretty poor advice."

Groups in favor of the bill have initiated a campaign of television ads. Last week, there were as many as 200 rallies organized through to put pressure on Republicans to override Bush's veto.

"We are furious that President Bush is playing cynical politics with our children's health," said Dr. Steve Harris, chair of the pediatrics department at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, where there was a lunchtime rally on October 1.

For most people in the U.S., more funding for SCHIP is common sense. A Washington Post/ABC News poll found 72 percent approval for the bill to expand SCHIP.

"Families could be forced to make decisions about whether they spend money on health care or food or clothes or fall behind on their rent," Rachel Kreps-Falk, a pediatric resident who joined a rally at Children's Hospital Oakland, told the Contra Costa Times. "This could impact the entire family."

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