Really? President Bush might use his first veto of a spending bill on the issue of children’s coverage?
Robert Pear at the New York Times and Christopher Lee of the Washington Post report that the Administration has indicated that they would veto the Senate proposal, which would increase tobacco taxes by 61 cents to a flat $1, in order to raise $35 billion for expansion of the State Child Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
SCHIP is deservedly popular among Democrats and Republicans: it is a major public insurance program, covering millions of children, including 800,000 Californians. Yet, to consumer advocates’ chagrin, the structure of the program made concessions to those who critique “big government-run” programs: while providing federal funds, it gives states flexibility in deciding whether to have a program, the eligibility and enrollment rules, and how they implement it; the states mostly negotiate with private insurers to provide the coverage; it is not an entitlement like Medicaid, so when funding runs out, children are left on waiting lists.
Given the Congressional support, the issue was not whether to continue SCHIP, but at what level, and, most importantly, how to pay for it. Frankly, we expected the biggest issue would be the new “pay-as-you-go” rules by the new Democratic leadership, not presidential opposition. They are still working to figure out the money, but could it really face a veto?
With all the other hot-button issues, it still doesn’t quite make sense that someone who campaigned as a “compassionate conservative” would choose children’s coverage as the issue to draw the line in the sand.