SCHIP: A Really Dumb Fight for Bush to Pick

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When Republicans try to prove their conservative bona fides by taking on a program aimed for children, the outcome is usually the same. Remember the Reagan Administration trying to declare ketchup a vegetable? And the House Republicans deciding to “curb the growth” of the school lunch program in 1995?

That’s why I’m mystified as to why President Bush is standing behind his veto threat on legislation that would expand SCHIP, the state health insurance program for children. After House and Senate negotiators reached a compromise yesterday, Bush faces opposition not only from Democrats but Republicans on Capitol Hill–enough, sources tell my colleague Jay Newton-Small, to override a veto. Given how averse this President has been to using his veto pen, he is under pressure from conservatives to take a stand. But this one strikes me as a fight he is going to lose, and one that will haunt his party right through 2008.

UPDATE: Here’s a Washington Post editorial that describes the program–which was one of the Clinton Administration’s great successes–and what’s at stake now:

IN THE DECADE since its enactment, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program has helped provide insurance coverage for millions of children whose families have modest incomes but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. Now the Bush administration is picking an unnecessary, and unnecessarily ideological, argument over the program’s reauthorization.

SCHIP has helped reduce the percentage of children who are uninsured even as the share of adults without insurance has grown. Among children in families with incomes between 100 and 200 percent of the poverty level — the group for which SCHIP provided the greatest increase in eligibility for coverage — the share of uninsured children fell from 22.5 percent in 1996 to less than 17 percent in 2005. Yet 9 million American children remain uninsured at some point during the year. Most of them, an estimated 6.1 million, are eligible for Medicaid (4.4 million children) or SCHIP (1.7 million) but simply are not enrolled.