It was quite the spectacle the other day in front of the White House. Children as young as seven turned up to protest, begging the president not to veto an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or S-CHIP. But their pleas fell on deaf ears, and the veto happened anyway.
Why would the President veto a program aimed at children? Is he heartless, as his detractors contend? Or could there possibly be more than meets the eye?
This latest political showdown involves a program originally designed ten years ago with the goal of getting health care to uninsured children in families that earn less than $41,300 a year, don't have health insurance through work and are ineligible for Medicaid. For the past ten years, Congress had been funding this sensible program, targeting a specific slice of the population, currently estimated to be around 5 million.
Unfortunately, supporters of the bill weren't content to simply reauthorize the program, which would have ensured that S-CHIP continued. Instead, the Democratic congressional majority passed a bill that would have expanded the scope of this program to cover families who earn $61,950 a year, and in some instances even more. So much for last fall's Democratic campaign promises to usher in a new sense of fiscal discipline. It's this expansion that Bush, sensibly, vetoed.
Beyond the stubbornness of politicians, it is wrong to draw a line in the sand refusing to strike a sensible and fiscally responsible compromise knowing that the stalemate could put this program at risk. In effect, an expanded S-CHIP would continue to ignore the needs of many poor children while giving more to children of middle-class parents.
The truth is that there is a middle ground to this emotionally charged issue. As my colleagues, Stuart Butler and Nina Owcharenko explain, the first step is to re-authorize S-CHIP (as was originally intended), while at the same time providing working families above S-CHIP income levels with health-care tax credits. Under this approach, families would be able to purchase private health insurance, so they could decide what coverage works best for them. That's a healthier approach than having the government decide what procedures to pay for.
This is a sensible policy solution. But it isn't clear whether the Left wants a workable solution or whether it just wants to play politics. Sadly, last week's demonstration at the White House seems to signal liberals are leaning in the wrong direction.
They're very busy trying to portray the president and Congress members who oppose S-CHIP expansion as cruel and heartless. With liberal icons such as Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) leading the charge, children were seen pleading to the President to resist vetoing the Democratic-proposed expansion bill -- displaying a heartfelt emotional demonstration to the television cameras.
Yet contrary to the Left's claim, its conservatives who care about ensuring America's neediest children, and we're trying to do something constructive here. Conservatives are taking political risks in an attempt to give American families the freedom to choose a health insurance plan that works best for them.
Soundbites are fine, but they're no substitute for a sound policy. All Americans can agree that our children deserve quality health care. But to get it, we need leaders who'll stop using "the children" as political props and start finding ways to help them.
Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate.
First appeared in El Diario