The fight in Congress over the State Children's Health Insurance Program (or "SCHIP") continued last week, with Congressional Democrats hastily forcing another vote on their once-vetoed proposal to expand government-funded healthcare. Democrats have been fighting for weeks to pass this SCHIP expansion. First, an initial bill was passed, and was vetoed by President Bush for being fiscally irresponsible. This was followed up by an unsuccessful attempt to override that veto. Then, on Thursday, when several of the bill's opponents were at home in their scorched California districts, looking after their constituents during a time of emergency, Democrats tried a "power play" against their shorthanded opponents by bringing a scarcely changed SCHIP-expansion bill back to the House floor, after allowing Republicans barely 24 hours to read its contents and prepare for debate.
The timing of Thursday's rushed vote was unconscionable, but it was hardly the first case of political maneuvering by Democrats during their extended quest to expand this government program. More appalling has been Democrat rhetoric, which has gone far beyond any reasonable bounds of political discourse.
Rather than deal with the substance of their proposed expansion of government-funded healthcare, congressional Democrats used language best left to extremists. They smeared Republicans, led by President Bush, as callous, uncaring conservatives willing to let children suffer to pay for their genocidal war in Iraq. "[H]ow many children will be dead" if this measure doesn't pass, asked Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett on the floor of the House. After the President's veto, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) claimed that "President Bush used his cruel veto pen to say 'I forbid 10 million children from getting the health benefits they deserve.'" Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said Republican votes against SCHIP expansion and the President's veto showed "a stunning lack of compassion for some of the most vulnerable members of our society."
The most reprehensible was Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), who in separate appearances on the House floor said that "the Axis of Evil isn't just in the Middle East, it's just down here on Pennsylvania Avenue" and that the President wanted to save the money being spent on SCHIP in order "to spend it to blow up innocent people." He also added his opinion (which was immediately praised by bloggers at DailyKos) that President Bush was sending American boys "to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the President's amusement."
Earlier last week, much to the chagrin of the anti-war Democrat base, Stark was made to apologize (though not before he Pelosi singled him out and thanked him for his role in the SCHIP debate). The pitched battle shows no signs of letting up, as Democrats in Congress continue to proceed in the only way that they know how: by ignoring facts and appealing to base emotions in their quest to expand government. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has already told the media that the way this debate has been handled would serve as a model for future Democratic legislative pushes.
Nonetheless, despite their underhanded tactics, their attempts to intimidate Republicans by painting them as being against children, their refusal to compromise, and their shutting the minority party out in writing the legislation, congressional Democrats have seen support for their position decline, rather than increase, over the course of the debate. The vote on the second-try SCHIP bill saw only one representative , Vern Ehlers (R-MI), defect from the position taken on the first SCHIP vote -- and he crossed over to the nays, rejoining his party on the side of realism and fiscal restraint.
The fight will continue. Federal funding for SCHIP in its current form ends on November 15, so some extension of the current program will have to be agreed upon and passed. But Democrats have made the massive expansion of government-controlled healthcare too large a priority in their 2007 legislative agenda, and have spent too much money and political capital on it, to let it go at that. The issue will almost certainly come up again in the not-too-distant future, though likely not as a stand-alone. According to a source on Capitol Hill, the Democrats' most likely course of action will be to bury SCHIP in a bill that Republicans would ordinarily overwhelmingly support, like a military quality-of-life bill, thereby forcing Republicans to appear to be voting against both the military and children, an apparent lose-lose situation.
That, though, is a bridge that must be crossed when it is reached. For now, the GOP has once again scored a legislative victory, as Minority Whip Roy Blunt and Chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor again produced the necessary number of Republican voters to limit this latest attempt at government healthcare expansion to a total well short of a veto-proof majority. This gives the President the flexibility to continue doing the right thing as well. The war is far from over, but as long as each battle is won, the GOP remains far closer to victory than to defeat.