President George W. (“I-Demand-an-Up-or-Down-Vote”) Bush vetoed the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which expired this past week. The highly successful program to aid children was begun in 1997 under the Clinton presidency.
The bipartisan legislation bill to increase funding and continue SCHIP was passed overwhelmingly by the House (265159) and Senate (6729). It would have increased health insurance for about two to four million children. Bush vetoed the bill behind closed doors and with no media present. About 6.5 million children are currently covered by state and federal programs. More than 43 million people are not covered by health insurance, with about six million under the age of 18.
The Senate had enough votes to override the President’s veto. However, House minority whip Ray Blunt (R-Mo.), who met with President Bush the day before the veto, said he was “absolutely confident” the House would fail to get the two-thirds vote to override the veto.
This was Bush’s fourth veto, his first one was to deny federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. His other vetoes, both in the Summer, were against House and Senate majority votes to reduce barriers on stem cell research and to systematically withdraw troops from Iraq. Why Bush only vetoed four bills in seven years is easily explained by a Republican Congress that refused to challenge him on critical social issues, and a Democrat minority that during his first term and much of his second term failed to bring numerous issues into full public discussion.
The additional funds for the children’s health care program would come from a 61-cent per pack increase in federal cigarette taxes. Dana Perino, Bush’s press secretary, spinning the veto as a plea for social justice, claimed the tax increase was “completely irresponsible.” Congress was irresponsible, she said, because the tax increase would affect the poor people of America because, as she claimed, the lower classes have the largest numbers of smokers. Her reasons may have been the first time that the BushCheney Administration acknowledged there were poor people in America and that the oil-rich Administration “cared” about them.
President Bush himself threw the fear of socialized medicine into the discussion, claiming that the legislation would entice people to switch to government health insurance and, thus lead to socialized medicine. He didn’t mention that he, the Vice-President, all members of the Cabinet, the Executive office, Congress, most federal agencies, and the military all are covered by a socialized medicine program.
The cost of SCHIP would increase spending only $7 billion a year for five years, $35 billion total, up from the current $5 billion a year. The entire five-year cost of the health care program, including the increase, would be about four months of the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In contrast to the $25 billion increase, Bush demands that Congress authorize an additional $189 billion to continue his invasion and occupation of Iraq. The total cost is expected to be at least $1 trillion, not including costs of extended health care for wounded and disabled veterans. President Bush, apparently, also had little concern about turning a surplus when he took office into a $3.5 trillion federal debt in less than seven years.
It makes no difference if Bush vetoed the health care bill because he wrongly believed he was “helping” tobacco-puffing lower income families or because he was frightened because terrorists, who imposed socialized medicine upon most civilized Western countries, would cross from Canada into the United States and scare Americans into becoming healthy.
George W. Bush, the strutting and smirking commander-in-chief, should have signed the bill because he needs every child in America to be healthy. It will be the children, protected by SCHIP, who will be called to Iraq and Afghanistan in the next decade.
Walter Brasch’s 17th book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush. Dr. Brasch, an award-winning social issues journalist, is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University. Assisting on this column was Rosemary R. Brasch.