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President could use lesson on compassion

The expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program is headed to the White House again for a promised veto.

As the Senate moved to put 4 million more uninsured children into the system, President Bush's spokesmen said the president is acting on principle. He's against tax increases.

The tax he is saving America from is another 61 cents on a pack of cigarettes to pay for the expansion. This is "compassionate conservatism" seven years after Bush's 2000 campaign.

There are also GOP mutterings about excessive costs and "socialized medicine."

After the veto, the Republicans who are now in the minority in the House will complain that the Democrats can't get anything done. This is a charge that comes out of the same nether regions as Bush's implication that Democrats who question his war policies are like fellow travelers of Hitler and Lenin.

In the House, 45 Republicans support the expansion of SCHIP, but not enough Republicans to help override the veto.

Some of the members who have faithfully supported the president on this strange course, like Reps. Thomas M. Reynolds of Clarence and John R. "Randy" Kuhl Jr. of Hammondsport, could pay the price at the polls next year.

The main reason is that the Bush administration has been trying to hobble SCHIP for a long time, in spite of the president's claims that he wants to expand coverage for needy children.

Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer in August complained to Bush about his new rules on SCHIP. The rules, they said, impede the ability of states with high costs of living from enrolling more children.

They asked Bush to reverse new rules requiring that "children eligible for SCHIP must go without coverage during a yearlong waiting period after enrolling, and that states expanding SCHIP must have a less than 2 percent decline in employer-sponsored insurance."

In September, 28 other governors complained about the sudden rule changes. A month ago, Spitzer and the governors of Illinois, Maryland and Washington filed suit against the rules, which can deny coverage to up to 400,000 New York children.

Appropriately, Spitzer said then, "it is a tragic day when we have to sue our own president for denying health care coverage to children who cannot afford it."

The Democratic bills expanding coverage from the current 6 million to 10 million would roll back these rule changes that the president is still upholding.

When the House failed to override the first veto last month, Spitzer singled out Kuhl and Reynolds for voting with Bush and against the override.

Ron Pollack, executive director of the nonpartisan Families USA, said the complaints the two Republicans from Western New York made about the expansion bill were fixed, and the charge that it represents "socialized medicine" is without merit.

Pollack noted that longtime foes of government-controlled health care, such as the American Medical Association, the pharmaceutical manufacturers and the insurance companies, all support the expansion of SCHIP, which is based on private insurance.

The vetoes are having a harmful effect on SCHIP programs that exist now. Without a new authorization for the overall program, Congress has to pass continuing resolutions to fund the program as it is.

Level funding threatens programs in 22 states, where health care prices have soared and more children are technically eligible because of lagging wage scales.

These states will run out of federal funds next February, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Congress will probably step in, but the uncertainty makes it tough to plan programs. New York is not yet among those states.

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com

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