Call his bluff

The Baltimore Sun

President Bush is threatening to veto legislation that would extend a program that provides health care to 6 million children of the working poor and that would add enough money to cover 4 million additional children who are without health insurance. Democratic congressional leaders should respond: Go ahead, make our day.

Picking on children whose parents are struggling financially is hardly a winning issue for the president or his party. In fact, so many Republicans are likely to support the measure when it comes up for a vote in the House tomorrow and Senate later this week that Congress may be able to override a veto.

But politics aside, Mr. Bush is simply so wrong on the facts that Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa concluded the president must be getting bad information from his staff.

House and Senate negotiators reached a compromise Friday between competing versions of legislation to renew the 10-year-old State Children's Health Insurance Program; it closely resembles the bipartisan Senate bill, which passed by a veto-proof margin. Spending on the program would rise by $35 million over five years, mostly through a 61-cent-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax.

The compromise adopts the Senate limit on full eligibility to families earning three times the federal poverty level - or about $60,000 for a family of four. Thus, Mr. Bush's continued claim that the measure would apply to children in some households earning up to $83,000 a year is very misleading. States would have to win federal approval to exceed the limit and also pay most of the tab.

Further, Mr. Bush has mistakenly described "millions" of the additional children who would get coverage through the program as already covered by private insurance they would thus abandon for "government-run health care" through SCHIP. But at least two-thirds of them are currently without health insurance, according to a Congressional Budget Office study, and 85 percent of those have family incomes that fall within the current SCHIP eligibility limits.

What's more, the president's warning that putting more money into SCHIP sends the nation further down the road to "government-run health care for all Americans" ignores the reality that all the medical care is provided by private doctors and facilities. Mr. Bush is correct, though, that expanding SCHIP is part of an incremental process designed to lead someday to affordable access to private health care for all Americans.

Is that such an ominous proposition as to be worth vetoing a bill upon which a bipartisan majority of Congress agrees? Hardly.

Lawmakers should call his bluff.

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