President Bush is probably on the losing end of the political argument over his veto last week of the expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program. But that's in part because he hasn't established a pattern of vetoing excessive spending.
Substantively, a veto was the only responsible action. This is not about federal subsidies for health insurance for low-income children. A simple extension of the existing program, covering children up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or a family income of about $41,000 a year, would have sailed through Congress and into law.
Instead, Democrats and some Republicans sought to expand the program, to ensure coverage up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or a family income of around $62,000. That reaches well into the middle class, since median family income in the United States is around $48,000.
The expansion would have been funded through a large increase in the cigarette tax, which falls disproportionately on the poor. So, this was, stripped to its essence, a proposal to tax the poor to subsidize health insurance for the middle class.
If Bush had been a more consistent check on excessive spending when Republicans were in charge, he'd have a better chance of getting the American people to listen to that argument now. Since he and Republicans generally have blown their credibility on spending discipline, he'll have to hope that House Republicans muscle through the adverse politics to sustain the veto.
Robert Robb is a columnist with the Arizona Republic. A longer version of this article originally appeared in the Arizona Republic.
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