Many of us are familiar with the title of this commentary, a quote lifted from the soliloquy delivered by Hamlet as he discusses the virtues of life over death. The Shakespearean quote however was rearranged somewhat by Charles Beaumont in November 1958, when he wrote a short story with the same title, which was later adapted for an episode of the Twilight Zone. His character, Edward Hall suffers from a fear of sleep, more specifically of a dream in which he dies in his sleep.
Such fears of that halfway place between awake and asleep seem to have taken hold in recent months with this administration as the President enters into his own political twilight zone. The recent veto, done “without fanfare and behind closed doors” of the bill that would come to the aid of millions of American children seems caught between common sense and legacy, reality and the faithfulness to a lost cause.
Once considered the President who never met a spending bill he didn’t like, the veto of the $35.5 billion expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program or S-chip would have added an additional 4 million children to the current plan’s coverage making the total of insured children who otherwise could not afford insurance to ten million.
Falling back on his role of the decider he suggested, “my job is a decision-making job, and as a result, I make a lot of decisions”. Or as Jay Leno paraphrased Mr. Bush recently: “Childrens do get sick, but childrens do get better again.”
S-chip, the acronym for the program that seeks to reverse the growing trend nationwide that shifts the burden of health care from the government and business to the private citizen seemed to be a no-brainer. Fearing a movement towards what Republicans see as a Democratic agenda of government sponsored health care insurance, the veto, masked as a refusal to spend was instead a representation the continued belief and somewhat hollow political promise that under Mr. Bush’s guidance and during the last months of his tenure we might somehow embrace smaller government.
A look at the President’s stance on this issue reflects his lifelong commitment to short change the neediest among us in order to pander to the ideology of his party. As governor of Texas, he sought to legislate a short funding of the program by attempting to change the eligibility requirement from the federal level (200% of the poverty level) to a more modest one he deemed acceptable (150%). In the overall budget, S-chip registers as a mere blip.
For those of you who may not know, the bill that was dismissed by him on Wednesday (10.03.07) would have raised that spending level to allow coverage for children whose family income was 300% over the current poverty guidelines. Those guidelines - $23,000 for a family of four based on 2006 numbers are also used as determination of other benefits including Food Stamps, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
Even as the rhetoric for the veto points to high-cost areas such as New York, where some have suggested the S-chip spending should be closer to 400% of the poverty level, the program does not lead the way to government sponsored health care. Nor does it impact the federal budget in such as way as to derail the numerous other spending bills the President has approved of in the past.
Support of the S-chip program makes sense. Healthier children, not just the ones the administration says have “access to emergency rooms” provide a solid baseline for his stance on education. There is no denying that a child who can attend school on a regular basis will be more likely to graduate and engage in the competitive environment that the global economy demands of its citizens. This is no time to leave any child behind.
S-chip is not permanent (reauthorization of the program is needed every five years) nor is it an entitlement (many of the children who would receive money from the program do not receive the benefit of Medicare or Medicaid).
It was reported today that the Senate has enough votes to override the partisan decision that Mr. Bush made, one that came with an invitation to talk to Congressional leaders. He refused their offers to discuss the plan before it was sent to his desk. The House is nineteen votes behind but could find enough Representatives concerned about re-election to overturn the veto.
The key word to remember is about S-chip is “incremental”. Funding of the program is not a step towards government run health care. It should be but it is not. “Perchance to dream: - ay, there's the rub”.