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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Messaging the SCHIP Veto

Democrats are raising some richly-deserved hell about Bush’s behind-closed-doors veto of legislation to increase funding for The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The bill would have increased the number of impoverished children covered from about 6.6 million children to more than 10 million.
Democrats are now organizing to override the veto. MyDD’s Todd Beeton reports that More than 200 “Rallies For Our Children’s Health” protesting the veto have been scheduled around the country by unions and progressive groups. The legislation passed the Senate by a veto-proof majority, including some conservative Republican Senators. But the bill is believed to be about 15 Republican votes short of the amount needed to override his veto in the House by the October 18 deadline.
An ABC News/Washington Post Poll conducted 9/27-30, found that 63 percent disapproved of Bush’s “handling of health care,” respondents favored Democrats “to do a better job of handling health care” by a margin of 56-26 percent and 72 percent supported the SCHIP increase (25 percent opposed), even when told that “opponents say this goes too far in covering children in families that can afford health insurance on their own.”
In other words, it is hard to imagine a more vulnerable veto for Dems to attack.
Glenn W. Smith, blogging at George Lakoff’s Rockridge Institute web pages, has an interesting idea — publicly asking those voting against the expanded SCHIP coverage to explain their vote to children “who cannot afford treatment for whooping cough or measles, luekemia or juvenile diabetes.”
In addition to the usual neocon ideologue drivel about “federalizing health care,” Bush argues that we can’t afford to insure just 3.4 million additional poor children this year, which would cost about $7 billion yearly, or about the cost of 41 days of the Iraq War. As Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Senator Edward M. Kennedy put it “Today we learned that the same president who is willing to throw away a half trillion dollars in Iraq is unwilling to spend a small fraction of that amount to bring health care to American children.”
Crediting Bush with fiscal responsibility on this issue is a huge stretch, explains blogger Hale “Bonddad” Steward in his HuffPo post, noting that “total federal outlays have increased from 18.5% of GDP in 2001 to 20.3% in 2006. That’s some fiscal prudence….Discretionary spending increased from $649.3 billion in 2001 to $1.016 trillion in 2006. That’s a 56.47% increase.”
Tobin Harshaw has a New York Times article revealing the lame white house rationale for the SCHIP veto. He quotes a white house source echoing Bush’s explanation the bill is a bad idea because it would raise (cigarette) taxes to add some adults and middle class kids to the coverage. Harshaw also quotes a Heritage Foundation blogger arguing that the bill favors “wealthier” states and another blogger complaining about the bill being funded by a cigarette tax hike of 39 cent per pack.
But don’t expect much GOP dissent among the GOP presidential candidates. As John McCain said in a CNN interview, “Right call by the president.” McCain also referred to the cigarette tax as a “phony smoke and mirrors way of paying for it.”
This is a good fight, well worth the Dems’ maximum firepower, and DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen has called for a district-by-district campaign to hold the R’s accountable, and radio ads are already running. Even if we fall short of the 15 Republican House votes needed, the override effort will dramatically brand the Democrats as the party that actually does something to help uninsured kids. Dems must make it loud and clear that health care for all kids is a critical element of real national security, and that this bill is a very modest beginning in that direction.
Every Republican opposed to the override should be cornered on their vote and called to explain the morality of denying less than 4 million poor kids decent health care at a cost equivalent to the cost of just 41 days of the Iraq war, while every member of congress has their families covered at tax payer expense. The squirming of GOP Presidential candidates under such intense scrutiny should make for entertaining YouTube clips.

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