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January 24, 2008

The Diminishing Returns Of S-CHIP Expansion Votes

The Democrats staged another attempt to override a veto on S-CHIP expansion, with predictable results. Their refusal to negotiate with the White House produced even fewer Republican crossover votes in the House as the bill went down to defeat. The Democrats promised another try later in the session:

House Democrats failed for the second time in nearly four months yesterday to override President Bush's veto of a proposed $35 billion expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

The 260 to152 tally left backers of the legislation about 15 votes short of the two-thirds majority of lawmakers voting necessary to override the president's Dec. 12 veto. Forty-two Republicans supported the override attempt, two fewer than in the previous effort to reject Bush's Oct. 3 veto of an earlier version of the bill. ....

"Ultimately, our goal should be to move children who have no health insurance to private coverage -- not to move children who already have private insurance to government coverage," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said yesterday.

Yesterday's defeat was expected, but Democrats said they will not give up. "This won't be your last opportunity this year to address this issue," House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told fellow lawmakers.

The most amusing aspect of this standoff is its futility. The Bush administration has repeatedly said it wants to expand this program, but it also wants adults out of a program that supposedly services children. The White House also wants to focus the program on the poor and working class, not the middle class, which can afford to pay for health insurance on its own.

Instead of compromising with the White House, the Democrats want to put on a show of defiance. They believe that they can sell the public on the idea that Bush wants to take health care away from children, when the plan involves insurance subsidies spent on adults and families who don't need them. They also want to use one of the most regressive taxes in place -- cigarette taxes, which hits the poor very disproportionately -- to fund the expansion of the program into the middle class.

Democrats haven't been able to sell that yet, however. While their approval ratings crash through the floor, the White House has patiently publicized the massive tax increase and exploding costs of the program, and continue to point out that the expansion goes mostly unfunded. Who wins? Well, it's not for nothing that the huge advantage in Congressional polling Democrats enjoyed throughout 2006 and most of 2007 has mostly dissipated.

Steny Hoyer wants a repeat of this bill in 2008. Maybe he should consider that one definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over again and expecting different results.


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