October 16, 2007

October 16, 2007 | Commentary on Health Care

Left Loves S-CHIP

Rallying the big-government troops.

Big government pays for many things. One side-effect is the enrichment of groups who get the money, enabling them to afford more lobbying on behalf of even bigger government. Now they've joined the most brazen voices of the liberal Left in the S-CHIP debate.

S-CHIP -- the State Children's Health Insurance Program -- is actually financed mostly with federal tax dollars, and the issue is whether to enlarge it, costing tens of billions of dollars.

Government already pays for almost half of all health care in America. We're close to a tipping point where most health care is funded by tax money and government essentially dictates everything to the already-over-regulated health industry.

Even before President Bush uncapped his veto pen on the SCHIP expansion, TV and radio ads and get-out-in-the-streets campaigns were underway.

Americans United for Change (AUC), MoveOn.org, and the Service Employees International Union (which claims over one million hospital workers as members) are spending millions on the effort. Also coordinating and mobilizing people are groups such as the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network, the AARP, and the American Medical Association. Sadly, rather than supporting ways to make medical bills more affordable, many in health care are pushing to have government pay those bills.

When costs are too high, what do we fix by having government pick up the tab?

AUC says the coalition will generate one million immediate contacts from constituents to lawmakers who opposed the bill. They promise to make this a major issue in congressional campaigns next year. Says AUC President Brad Woodhouse, "We're taking this on ... as epic a battle as the battle to end the war."

Propaganda is an integral part of warfare, and this group is making it their main weapon. Families USA, for example, presents the issue using cartoonish rhetoric in website headlines such as "Bush vs. Kids" and "President Bush to Children: "No Health Care for You""

The rally organizers are pulling out all the stops, too. As one e-mailed rally invitation noted, "If you have kids, definitely bring them, too!" Their side is shameless in its exploitation of children. Perhaps the topper was the use of a 12-year-old to give the official "Democratic response" to President Bush's weekly national radio address.

A compliant media mostly accepts these tactics and too often mischaracterizes the fight as one over the very existence of SCHIP, as though Bush vetoed the program because he wants to kill it. In fact, he signed an extension to keep it alive and he says he'll support giving it a few billion more if it simply stays focused on serving poor kids, rather than becoming a new middle-class entitlement.

That's what's really at issue here: Whether Washington will reshape a program designed as a safety net for poor children and turn it into one that covers most kids in America (and next moves on to cover all kids, then their parents and, ultimately, everyone else). The bill Bush vetoed would expand government-paid health care to kids in families who make more than $62,000 a year. Most in that group already have private insurance. But that will surely be cancelled if Congress offers them "free" government coverage to replace it.

Research from the Heritage Foundation shows that 45 percent of America's children already have their health insurance paid by taxpayers. Lots of folks in Washington think that's not enough. The S-CHIP bill would boost that figure to 55 percent.

And some of the bill's sponsors say their ultimate goal is 100 percent. Perhaps they think that it's wrong for parents to bear the burden of caring for their children. Apparently, it's the job of the village known as government.

Heritage is promoting a smarter approach that lets parents directly control their family's insurance, using tax credits for health-insurance costs, especially for people who can't get it from their employers. Some in Congress, such as Sen. Mel Martinez (R., Fla.), see this as a better alternative to the S-CHIP expansion.

Bush and his allies want to preserve S-CHIP as a program that helps lower income families. But it's not a model for everyone because it does nothing to make health care more affordable. That could be done by reversing the government-dictated bureaucracy that drives up costs. That doesn't please those who depend on that bureaucracy for their jobs, so they're pushing a bill to keep big government alive and growing.

Yes, it's "an epic battle." But Bush and his allies are heroes, not villains. They know that bigger S-CHIP, like all bigger government, means the next generation will inherit the debt to pay for it. That's a much better way to look out for our kids.

Ernest Istook is a distinguished fellow in Government Relations.

About the Author

Ernest Istook Distinguished Fellow
Government Studies

Related Issues: Health Care

First appeared in National Review Online