I’ve spent quite a bit of passion on the whole proposed expansion of the S-CHIP program and President Bush’s veto of it, and I’m not entirely happy with myself over that. There’s a hell of a lot of heat surrounding the issue, and not much light. In that spirit, I’m going to try to personally tone down a few things, and try to apply a smidgen of calm, reasonable common sense to the issue.
(This might cost me my position in the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy and endanger my weekly checks from the Republican National Committee for parroting their talking points, but I shall let my conscience be my guide. Things have slacked off since Master Rove retired, anyway.)
First up, the existence of the S-CHIP program was never in dispute. President Bush had no problems with continuing it as is. Congress wanted to expand it by roughly a whole order of magnitude, and the whole program became the football in a game of political brinkmanship. Bush said “as is or not at all,” and Congress said “double or nothing.” Neither side is backing down as yet, and that’s where things stand. A safer approach for Congress would have been to pass a reauthorization of the existing program, THEN try to pass an expansion — leaving it as is as a “safety net” before fighting for expansion, but that would have involved passing up the political opportunity to paint Bush as killing the entire program — and that was far, far too tempting.
Secondly, with all the discussion of the Democrats’ poster child for S-CHIP, Graeme Frost, and his family’s financial status, but I — along with a lot of other people — overlooked one crucial element of the whole thing: Frost was ALREADY being covered by the program. The proposed expansion would not have affected him and his family one whit. He should not have been the poster child for the expansion, but for the continuance of it as is.
Hell, one could use him to argue AGAINST the expansion. By jacking up the costs of the program and tying its funding to cigarette taxes, the plan could threaten the very existence of the program — leaving young Master Frost and other kids like him high and dry.
There’s little arguing that the program is, overall, a good one. The question is just how far it should go. I have a solid bias against expansion of any government program or responsibility until proven absolutely necessary, so my instinct is to reject the expansion. And when it comes to using “helping poor children” as the excuse to help people who make above the national median income and defining “children” as people as old as 25, I dig in my heels and say “hell, no!”
Finally, it must be remembered that Congress MAKES the law. Bush’s power when it comes to law is to say “yes” or “no” to the whole thing; it is Congress that decides just what makes it to his desk. If Congress was truly interested in helping poor children, they would split the bill into two parts — first, reauthorizing S-CHIP as is, then a second bill expanding it. Let the fight be over the actual issues, and not over scoring political points.
Especially when the Democrats are so eager to hide behind children. Sending a 12-year-old to fight your battles, having kids pulling red wagons (hopefully not “Made In China” swathed in lead paint, but one can’t be too certain) is the most vile of political theatre and crudely exploitative of kids, and ought to be thoroughly repudiated.