The battle over the State Children's Health Insurance Program is heating up. This week, Congress is set to pass legislation to cover millions more kids. President Bush plans to veto the bill. There is bipartisan support for expansion in both houses, but at the moment, we can only be sure of a veto-proof margin in the Senate.
President Bush led his Thursday press conference and Saturday radio address with misinformation about the bill, in an attempt to give political cover to House members who may risk their seats to sustain a veto. This misinformation has been peddled by the White House and others in the conservative movement all summer, but the effort has failed to turn the public against the bill. And last week, key Republican senators debunked Bush as well.
Why are Bush and the conservative movement spending so much effort fighting popular bipartisan legislation? What is the SCHIP debate really about?
Conservatives, being compassionate and all, will swear up and down they don't want more sick kids. They just don't want "big government" to deal with them.
Now, I could give you some defensive arguments to insist SCHIP really isn't "big government." States take the lead in implementing the program. Private insurers generally deliver the coverage.
Which would be true. But that would leave out a critical part of the program's success: our federal government.
We all chip in and fund children's health insurance through our federal government. And we make sure the coverage is decent by regulating the private companies involved.
In return, we all save money and strengthen our economy as kids get more preventative care, instead of waiting for grievous illness to take them to the ER.
This is not theory. While more and more adults have had to go without health insurance, SCHIP has increased the percentage of kids with health insurance.
It is simply a proven success.
None of this was happening, or would happen, without government - without us citizens calling on our federal government to invest our taxes and set ground rules to solve this problem.
Having said that, this is not really a debate of government versus no government.
This is a debate between good government and bad government.
As I wrote in an earlier post:
Bush and fellow conservatives are just fine with government subsidies to prop up Medicare Advantage private plans, even though they cost taxpayers more than the traditional Medicare public plan. They are just fine keeping the children's insurance program, so long as we underfund it and millions remain uninsured. As Robert Borosage commented earlier: "faced with a choice of providing children with health care or protecting the profits of private insurance companies, the president chooses the latter."
Conservatives fear losing the SCHIP debate, because they fear losing the entire health care debate. This fear is unchanged from 1993, when they decided they had to kill universal health care, because "[i]ts passage will give the Democrats a lock on the crucial middle-class vote and revive the reputation of the party."
Politics over policy. Party over people. Bad government over good government.
SCHIP is not health insurance for all. It's just a rare bright spot in our overall inefficient, convoluted, patchwork, private-sector dominated health care system.
Expanding SCHIP does not automatically get us to quality, affordable health insurance for all.
Nor does defeating SCHIP -- and further upsetting the public by worsening our health care system -- ensure conservatives (despite their delusions) that they can stop the momentum for universal health insurance. Perhaps the opposite.
To address the myriad of domestic problems that Americans want solved, including our shoddy health care system, we need effective government.
To win these debates with the public, we need to be able to propose solutions that involve our government.
That means when we have a program where our government has shined, we must praise it for that very reason.
The fundamental question that is always before the public is: whose people and which philosophy knows the difference between good government and bad government?
This is an updated version of an earlier post at the Campaign for America Future's blog