Congressional Republicans are edging away — and some are doing more than edging — from a Bush administration that continues to skid in the polls, and some Jewish leaders are hoping that will be the wedge they need to override last week’s presidential veto of a critical children’s health care bill.
The issue involves the popular State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The law, dating back to 1998, provides basic health coverage for children in families that fall into an insurance gap because they earn too much for Medicaid but do not earn enough to buy private health insurance.
The Democrats, with a lot of support from Republican lawmakers, want to expand coverage as part of the reauthorization of the measure. But the Bush administration says the
expanded bill is too expensive.
“My administration strongly supports reauthorization of SCHIP,” Bush said in his veto statement. “That is why I proposed last February a 20 percent increase in funding for the program over five years.”
But the expanded program, he said, would “shift SCHIP away from its original purpose and turn it into a program that would cover children from some families of four earning almost $83,000 a year. In addition, under this bill, government coverage would displace private health insurance for many children.”
Some conservative lawmakers say expanding SCHIP is the foot in the door for more government control of health care. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said expanding the program is a “segue to national health care.”
But Democrats and many Republicans say the program is vital as the number of uninsured, including millions of children, climbs.
The measure passed both houses by comfortable margins, but Bush used his veto pen last week. And while supporters say they have enough votes to override the veto in the Senate, they are about 20 votes short of an override margin in the House.
Sammie Moshenberg, Washington director for the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), said the reauthorization and expansion of SCHIP “is a no- brainer” for her group. “You already have the program, it’s successful, governors and mayors in both parties support it; it seems like something very modest we can do to provide health care for children.”
Moshenberg said NCJW is going “all out” to press for additional override votes in the House. So are groups like the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA).
“America’s children will be the real losers with this veto, and it is our fervent hope that Congress will take the opportunity to make things right,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, the JCPA executive director.
SCHIP advocates hope to exploit surging GOP worries about the Bush administration’s sinking popularity — and rising anxieties about next year’s congressional elections. In a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, 72 percent of respondents said they supported increased funding for SCHIP.
“There are a lot of Republican lawmakers who worry that the party is being taken down by an administration that puts ideology over reality,” said an official with one Jewish group. “We hope to make the case that this is particularly evident when it comes to SCHIP; if Republican House members want to show their independence from the administration before next November, this is a good place to begin.”
But House Democratic leaders conceded this week that finding the extra votes will be difficult, and suggested there is little room for compromise with the administration. n