Bush a Block Off the Old S-CHIP
On Saturday, President Bush scored a triple victory when he quietly signed a bill extending the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) through March 2009. First, the President teed up "socialized medicine" as the definitive 2008 GOP talking point in response to any new health care initiatives coming from the Democratic Party. Second, he added another win for the GOP campaign of obstructionism, blocking Democratic successes at any cost in the hope of painting Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi as leaders of a "do-nothing" Congress. And last, George W. Bush kept intact his consistent record of fierce opposition to the popular children's health insurance program dating back to his days as Governor of Texas. And as in Texas, he went on to claim credit for it.
Unable to override the two Bush vetoes of their $35 billion proposal expanding S-CHIP coverage from 6.6 million to 10 million beneficiaries, the Democratic leadership gave up the fight for now. While Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) vowed to press on ("What we couldn't resolve, the American people will resolve in November") White House spokesman Tony Fratto proclaimed victory:
"We're pleased that the program will be extended and that states can be certain of their funding."
The Bush administration's ultimately successful campaign to block the expansion of the very successful - and wildly popular - S-CHIP program began in earnest this summer. In August, the White House fired the first salvoes in Bush's second war against the insurance program for children. Just two weeks after the House and Senate each approved major expansions of S-CHIP, the Bush administration announced draconian new eligibility rules that would trim thousands of low income children from the rolls. But unlike his Texas two-step when he claimed credit for a program he fought tooth and nail, this time George W. Bush isn't running for anything.
As the New York Times described, the White House quietly dispatched a letter at 7:30 PM on a Friday evening outlining its new curbs on S-CHIP eligibility. With Congress out of session, Dennis Smith of the federal Center for Medicaid and State Operations notified states that they must reach 95% enrollment of families below 200% of the poverty level before they can expand their programs. Of course, no state currently approach the 95% figure today (nationally, almost 30% of eligible children remain unenrolled in S-CHIP). Worse still, several states previously received the federal government's OK to extend their coverage to even higher income levels and more are considering further expansion still:
In New York, which covers children up to 250 percent of the poverty level, the Legislature has passed a bill that would raise the limit to 400 percent - $82,600 for a family of four - but the change is subject to federal approval.
California wants to increase its income limit to 300 percent of the poverty level, from 250 percent. Pennsylvania recently raised its limit to 300 percent, from 200 percent. New Jersey has had a limit of 350 percent for more than five years.
It's no wonder incredulous state health care officials are horrified by the Bush administration's new regulations. Ann Clemency Kohler, deputy commissioner of human services in New Jersey, said "It will cause havoc with our program and could jeopardize coverage for thousands of children."
If this all sounds vaguely familiar, it should. As I wrote in July ("S-CHIP on Bush's Shoulder"), the unfolding saga over children's health insurance is a repeat of then-Governor George W. Bush's performance in Texas. There, Bush first opposed the S-CHIP program and then tried to limit its scope with restrictive income eligibility requirements. Facing certain defeat over the popular program, Governor Bush ultimately caved to public pressure. Of course, he then took credit for it.
As The New Republic noted, we've been here before. In the 1990's, then Texas Governor George W. Bush opposed a bi-partisan effort to expand S-CHIP in his state. Despite Texas' worst-in-the-nation status (then and now) in the percentage of residents without insurance, Bush (then as now) opposed the broadened program on both fiscal and philosophical grounds. As Salon reported in July 2000, Bush tried to limit eligibility to families with incomes at 133% of the poverty line, compared to the 200% standard adopted in most states (and over Bush's opposition, in Texas). Bush's hard line would have kept 200,000 kids off the program's rolls. As it was, the difficult and cumbersome application process limited sign-ups to only 28,000 of the 500,000 children eligible by mid-2000.
None of which stopped George W. Bush taking credit for the program during his 2000 presidential campaign. As Joshua Micah Marshall reported in Salon:
In Bush's press release it says: "When the CHIPs program was first implemented, Governor Bush embraced it as an opportunity to help deliver health coverage to thousands of uninsured children, and signed legislation providing health insurance for more than 423,000 children."
On July 20, 2000, Al Gore made a trip to San Antonio, Texas. Gore described Governor Bush's opposition to the program and the onerous eligibility process he set up to blunt participation by Texas families. "As a result," Gore said, "there are 600,000 children in Texas eligible for health insurance who don't have it." Sadly, Bush never paid a price for stonewalling on S-CHIP and his war against Texas' children.
Now, as Bush prepares to exit the stage, he again is claiming for an S-CHIP bill he furiously opposed. But with his S-CHIP "hat trick" today, George W. Bush may be setting up his Republican Party for a beating in 2008. As a hockey fan will tell you, the player scoring the hat trick of three goals in one game today is likely in for a fight the next time the teams play.
Bush made a critical mistake on this. The Republicans will definitely pay a price at the polls for denying health care to kids.
Bush's middle name is Mistake! He makes mistakes left and right...