As people across the country are mobilizing and pressuring Congress to overturn President Bush's veto of SCHIP, the program that provides health insurance for low-income children, many are scratching their heads as to why Bush is against the program at all.
Presidents might veto legislation that is costly, ill conceived, or ineffective, but in this case, most people agree that SCHIP is a very successful program. And therein lies the problem.
"The reason that Bush is so opposed to SCHIP is the same reason he was so determined to privatize Social Security, which is that they're both programs that work," said economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman in a recent BuzzFlash interview. "You have to understand, that is the point of view of somebody who really wants to undo the New Deal -- and if possible ... get things back to the way they were before Teddy Roosevelt and the 'Socialists' came in.
"The worst thing is a government program that actually does help people," Krugman continued. "So the SCHIP is a really bad thing, from Bush's point of view, because it works so well. It might lead people to say, well, if we can do this for lower-income children, why can't we do it for lots of other people who need guaranteed health care? So it's the determination, on his part, to do this veto, even though there's a short-term political cost, because they're deathly afraid that people will look at SCHIP and say, gee, actually the government can do some good."
The battle of SCHIP is really a battle about the role of government. Despite large numbers of Americans who support government-funded programs to keep people healthy, like Medicare, Medicaid and SCHIP, Bush represents a radical anti-government position that demonstrates how a narrow number of lawmakers -- little more than a third of Congress voted against SCHIP -- are willing to deny other families the same level of quality, government-financed health care that Congress, the military, most federal agencies, and even the President himself, enjoy.
In the run up to his veto, and in the days since, Bush has continually preyed upon people's fears of socialized medicine, saying that SCHIP is a slippery slope toward universal, government-sponsored health care.
He told the Washington Post in July that his "concern is that ... you're really beginning to open up an avenue for people to switch from private insurance to the government." And Bush later hammered the point home, telling the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce that "I believe in private medicine, not the federal government running the health care system."
The White House resource site for health care describes SCHIP as "[A]n incremental step toward the Democrats' goal of a government-run health care system."
That anti-government mentality explains why so many conservatives came out swinging when Graeme Frost, a 12-year-old boy who received government-sponsored health services after barely surviving a car crash in 2004, filed a formal objection to the children's health scandal and later delivered a radio address for the Democrats, saying, "If it weren't for CHIP, I might not be here today."
Graeme spent a week in a coma and, three years later, still has a paralyzed vocal cord. His sister Gemma, who was also in the car, sustained severe brain damage.
But that didn't stop Republicans and media outlets alike from swiftboating the Frost family. Syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin, for example, accused them of being well-heeled freeloaders. When that theory turned out to be a lie, it didn't really matter. Malkin and other right-wingers simply moved their baseless smear campaign to another SCHIP recipient: Bethany Wilkerson, a two-year-old who was born with a serious heart problem. (Click the video above to learn more about Bethany and how you can help defeat Bush's SCHIP veto.)
In short, Bush rejected an expansion of a program that could have insured millions of children for five years on less than what it costs to spend another four months in Iraq. Given that Bush has only vetoed four bills in his two terms in office, never questioning outrageous earmarks on bloated spending bills, the stubborn illogic of his maneuvering is stunning.
Which brings us to the here and now. The House will vote again tomorrow (Thursday) on a SCHIP veto override, and you can lean on lawmakers to help make it happen. While the Senate approved the insurance bill by a large enough margin to defeat Bush's veto, at 265-159, the House fell short by some two dozen votes. Now, groups across ideological lines and tax brackets are banding together like rarely before to put pressure on some key House Republican -- and Democrat -- holdouts to cross over. In fact, according to FireDogLake, at least two already have: Baron Hill (D-Ind.) and Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.).
Other remaining holdouts include Steve Chabot (R-Oh.), Thelma Drake (R-Va.), Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), Sam Graves (R-Mo.), Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.), Randy Kuhl (R-N.Y.), Jim Marshall (D-Ga.), Bob Etheridge (D-N.C.), Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), Jim Saxton (R-N.J.), Greg Walden (R-Or.), and Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) -- many of them politically vulnerable, some even according to Karl Rove himself. And now they're having to answer to everyone from their own constituents to groups as diverse as MoveOn.Org and the Catholic League, both of whom have begun ongoing ads and protests in hopes of changing the legislators' minds and defeating Bush's ideologically driven veto. According to recent reports from the New York Times, Washington Post and onward, Republicans are beginning to see that ignoring the public will on issues like health care and the war in Iraq can be costly indeed.
If you're interested in getting involved in the debate, here are some places you could place your well-deserved outrage, starting with the holdouts themselves, whose contact information is clickable above. You can also join any number of efforts, from protests to vigils to television ads, now underway in hopes of overriding Bush's veto.
So far, many of the efforts are showing promise. Grassroots organizer Adrian Russell-Falla, a volunteer for MoveOn's Portland Council, says the willingness he has seen from local residents to get behind the override effort is unprecedented.
"We have never been involved in calling this successful -- anytime, anywhere," said Russell-Falla, referring to the strategy of asking community members to flood their representative's office with calls in support of SCHIP.
With the vote a day away, it's not too late for you to take action too. Here are a few ways how:
Click here to join the American Medical Association's veto override campaign
Click here to get behind Catholics United's advertising campaign pressuring the Republican holdouts
Click here to host a MoveOn.Org SCHIP vigil in your town
Click here to join Ben and Jerry's TrueMajorityAction.Org advertising campaign
Click here to view and share Americans United for Change's ad campaign, as well as those from the SEIU, the AFSCME and more
Click here to contact a SCHIP program in your state to find out what you can do locally to help