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SCHIP opposition raises questions

There does not appear to be any measure that the House and Senate might approve to finance a children's health insurance program that President Bush would not threaten to veto. The president already has vetoed the initial bill and the House has revised it to meet many of his objections, but he now has promised a veto of the changed measure. This bill did not rectify all of his objections but made enough changes to encourage its supporters that he would withdraw his veto threat.

House Democrats tried in vain to address the issues raised by its Republican critics, but it mattered not to the president and his Republican supporters. All of which makes me wonder if the president has not been honest in expressing his opposition to the original bill and now its successor. Could it really be that his opposition was to the means of financing the costs of the measure that will be opposed by the tobacco industry?

The revised measure, like the one vetoed by the president, would add $35 billion to the Children's Health Insurance Program and would be financed by an increase of 61 cents a pack on cigarettes, bringing the total excise tax to $1 per pack. The tobacco industry, of course, will totally oppose such an increase. While I acknowledge that neither the president or his Republican supporters have cited that as the reason for their opposition to the bill, I have to wonder if that's not behind their opposition.

While the House approved a revised version of the original bill by a 265 to 142 margin, it was still not sufficient to override another presidential veto.

While the original bill that Bush vetoed would have covered children in families earning up to $83,000, the revised measure would provide federal matching money to cover children in families with incomes below 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or some $62,000 for a family of four. That eliminates the charge that the bill would cover children in families earning up to $83,000.

The president also has said that he is opposed to enlarging a government-financed insurance program that might compete with private insurance. The new bill, however, would encourage premium assistance to help families buy private insurance. So much for that concern.

The president and most Republicans try to use the argument that the bill, while designed to cover health costs for children, would also cover many adults. The revised measure, recognizing this argument, would remove coverage from childless adults and would reduce the enrollment of parents. So much for that argument in opposition to the legislation. The new measure, like the one already vetoed, would ban coverage of illegal immigrants.

If some version of the new bill is approved by Congress and vetoed as expected by the president, Democrats might extend the existing legislation through next summer and then schedule a vote in the fall.

The president says the new measure has not addressed his concerns and said the new one is "more of the same." Congressman Tom Reynolds continues to oppose the new measure, as he did the already-vetoed bill. He says, "Let's put poor children first," seemingly overlooking the changes that in fact do exactly that.

Two area congressional representatives have both voted for the new bill, as they did for the original measure. They are Rep. Louise Slaughter and Rep. Brian Higgins.

On a totally unrelated matter, I want to report that I have just returned from a trip through New York, Massachusetts and Vermont and can't understand why the price of gasoline in New England is some 30 cents a gallon less than we pay in Western New York. If any reader can explain this, please let me know.

Murray B. Light is the former editor of The Buffalo News

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