WASHINGTON — In the spirit of holiday giving, labor and community activists are descending on lawmakers’ offices this month with a warning: enact SCHIP children’s health care by a veto-proof margin now or face removal from office next fall.
“This president and his allies in Congress need a visit from Dickens’ ghost of Christmas future, the way they’ve been treating millions of Tiny Tims,” said Jeremy Funk, spokesman for Americans United for Change, which is spearheading the nationwide campaign to save SCHIP (the State Children’s Health Insurance Program), now serving 6.6 million youngsters. The campaign includes delivering empty presents to the offices of Republican lawmakers and presenting Bush loyalists on Capitol Hill with “Grinch that Stole Christmas wish lists.”
President Bush has vetoed the measure twice, calling a $35 billion increase over five years to cover an additional 4 million children “wasteful.” The House has fallen 11 or 12 votes short of overriding his vetoes.
Funk pointed out that the same handful of Bush loyalists who sustained his veto voted again Nov. 14 “to once again give President Bush a blank check in Iraq” by opposing the Orderly and Responsible Iraq Redeployment Appropriations Act.
He added, “It’s sick kids that will end up paying the price if congressional Republicans continue to embrace Bush’s backwards priorities of spending trillions of dollars policing an endless war in Iraq while opposing a fraction of that amount on health care for our most vulnerable citizens.” For the amount spent in just one week in Iraq, 800,000 children could get health insurance for an entire year, he said.
A just-released report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service warns that states will start running out of SCHIP funds by next March even if Congress approves an extension at current funding levels. “The status quo is not an option,” Funk told the World. “At current levels of funding, 21 states will run out of SCHIP funds and 1.6 million children will be forced off the SCHIP rolls.”
Larry Pellegrini of the Georgia Rural Urban Summit told the World by telephone that a broad coalition of children’s advocates has visited the district offices of Georgia’s seven Republican and six Democratic House members. All the Republicans and even one Democrat, Jim Marshall, voted to sustain Bush’s vetoes. They caved in to the tobacco lobby, which opposes SCHIP expansion because it would be paid in part with higher cigarette taxes.
“SCHIP has been a bipartisan program,” Pellegrini said. “It’s an issue that enjoys a high level of popular support. People may forget how they voted on a trade bill. They will not forget how they voted on children’s health care. These lawmakers will regret their votes against SCHIP and many will not be back” in 2009.
Charlie Wishman of the Iowa Citizen Action Network said scores of children’s advocates met with Republican Rep. Tom Latham to thank him for voting for SCHIP. But they scolded Latham for voting against the omnibus spending bill for Health and Human Services and the Labor Department. Latham claimed the Democrats had cut funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). But the Democrats’ bill still provided billions more for LIHEAP than Bush proposed. Bush vetoed that spending bill as well.
Wishman said the SCHIP battle is throwing into stark relief the warped priorities of the Republican presidential contenders in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses. “Every Democratic presidential candidate is supporting SCHIP and the Republicans are running away from it,” he said. “Fully funding SCHIP would cost about the same as 63 days of the war in Iraq.”
Wishman blasted the Republicans for using anti-immigrant hysteria to attack the bill. Under a round-the-clock, highly racist drumfire, the latest SCHIP bill expressly excludes undocumented children. However the Republicans continue to attack it by claiming it benefits such children. “We believe in providing health care not only for every child in America but every person in America,” Wishman said.
Joining the local protests at over a dozen district offices of Republican lawmakers are members of USAction, MoveOn.org, the Service Employees International Union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, TrueMajority and Catholics United.