On Monday, Julia Dahl wrote in this space about the president's plan to use his rarely employed veto pen on legislation to fund the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Wednesday he gave an interview to the Washington Post and explained why he was so adamant about this particular legislation:
"I support the initial intent of the program," Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post after a factory tour and a discussion on health care with small-business owners in Landover. "My concern is that when you expand eligibility ... you're really beginning to open up an avenue for people to switch from private insurance to the government."
Right, except these are people who, by definition, cannot afford private insurance. But then this president doesn't have a very firm grasp of how the healthcare system works in this country in the first place. He thinks we already have universal healthcare -- you just go to an emergency room. (Maybe he thinks that's free for everyone, just like it is for him.)
It wasn't too long ago that he was more than willing to dramatically expand government healthcare -- as long as the insurance companies got a nice healthy piece of the action and the pharmaceuticals companies got no price controls -- and, of course, the people who benefited were a huge voting bloc. Poor kids don't vote, so why bother?
This is the opening salvo in the new healthcare battle and, unsurprisingly, the compassionate conservative in chief is out there leading the charge for the insurance companies. But even some Republicans seem appalled at this particular stubborn and illogical tightfistedness:
[Sen. Charles] Grassley and [Sen. Orrin] Hatch, in a joint statement this week, implored the president to rescind his veto threat. They warned that Democrats might seek an expansion of $50 billion or more if there is no compromise.
They also said that Bush should drop efforts to link the program's renewal to his six-month-old proposal to replace the long-standing tax break for employer-based health insurance with a new tax deduction that would help people pay for insurance, regardless of whether they get it through their jobs or purchase it on their own.
"Tax legislation to expand health insurance coverage is badly needed, but there's no Democratic support for it in the SCHIP debate," said Grassley, the ranking Republican on the finance panel. "In the meantime, our SCHIP initiative in the Finance Committee takes care of a program that's about to expire in a way that's more responsible than current law and $15 billion less than the budget resolution calls for."
I have very serious doubts that the Spineless Sages will ever find the will to override any veto, but this one would certainly seem like a no-brainer. We're talking about sick kids here. If they can't muster the will to defy this 28 percent president for that, then they will go over the cliff with him on anything.