What once was lost now is found

On Oct. 3, 2007, President Bush vetoed a $35 billion bipartisan expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program. It was only the fourth veto of his presidency. The President accused those in congress who supported the bill of attempting to "federalize health care." As well, Bush, concerned with his legacy, seems intent on restoring his and his party's reputation as fiscal conservatives. What once was lost now is found.

Though Bush, on numerous occasions, spoke out against SHIP, his characterizations of the program were at best misleading, often buttressed by reasons he said were "philosophical." Why the White House would have blocked this bill defies explanation. But then this administration is the gift that keeps on giving, beyond all understanding.

At issue was a program which would have provided health insurance for children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but cannot afford private health insurance. The bill would have expanded the $5 billion-a-year program to $7 billion-a-year over the next five years. That increase would have boosted enrollment of children from 6.6 million to 10 million, and would have significantly reduced the number of uninsured children, estimated to be 9 million. The increase was slated to be paid for by a tobacco tax.

One of the President's objections was that the expansion was far too generous and would have allowed families who can afford to purchase private insurance to shift their children to SHIP. The truth is that figures from the Congressional Budget Office indicate that the bill would have heavily targeted low income children and primarily assisted children who would otherwise not be insured. As well, regarding those families who have access to private health insurance, what the President failed to point out was that in many cases the policies have significant gaps in coverage along with large deductibles, plus cost-sharing charges placing such insurance out of reach. Families who might technically qualify, based on income, simply cannot afford it, and their children, as a result, go uninsured.

To resist the program on the grounds that it is a tax increase for tobacco users, as Bush did, leaves out an important component: raising the price of cigarettes would act as one more deterrent to those 2,000 plus teenagers who begin smoking each day. And not to forget adult smokers who should ask themselves with each purchase if smoking is not something to seriously reconsider. Of course, there might have been a more elegant way to fund the SHIP increase. But then, again, maybe not, considering the impact smoking has on the health care system.

To veto the Children's Health Care bill for "philosophical" reasons is unconscionable. SHIP is not one more stepping stone on the path to "socialized" health care anymore than are Medicare, Medicaid or Veterans health care. And let's assume that the panoply of doctors assigned to the president do not bill him for services.

To argue that his veto was fiscally responsible requires a studied suspension of disbelief. This White House has, over the past six years, mortgaged our children's future with China holding the note, while letting the Republicans send him spending bill after spending bill without so much as a whisper of protest or veto.

Consider just one example among hundreds wherein this White House has acted fiscally irresponsible: the embassy being constructed in Baghdad.

On May 1, 2003, President Bush, America's Top Gun, landed aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, flying second seat in a Navy S-3B Viking after making two fly-bys over the carrier. Moments later, the President, wearing a green flight suit and holding a white helmet, deplaned, saluted those on the flight deck, and declared "Mission Accomplished," referring to the Iraq war. He then went onto say that "We're helping to rebuild Iraq, where the dictator built palaces for himself, instead of hospitals and schools."

Since "Mission Accomplished" what could go wrong has gone wrong.

Yet, through it all, the fiscally conservative White House, spending a billion each week on the war, having constructed few hospitals and schools, has built the mother of all embassies in Iraq. It has a 15-foot thick perimeter wall; 21 buildings on 104 acres, the size of 80 football fields; impressive residences for the ambassador and his deputy plus six apartments for senior officials; a water treatment plant and power generator; two blocks of offices for U.S. staff; a swimming pool; a well-equipped gym; tennis courts; movie theater; restaurants; and an American Club for social functions. Cost: over $600 million and counting (cost overruns thus far total $144 million). And what message does this monstrous footprint send to the Iraqi people, who live outside the "zone" where electricity and running water and security are in very short supply and unemployment, by some accounts, runs over 50 percent?

Meanwhile, our President, with all the righteousness of the newly ordained, canceled a program that represented a mere blip on the economic radar in the name of being a good financial steward of the people's money. Mission accomplished.

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