Viewpoint

Stephen Flynn

Last week, George Bush correctly used his veto pen — for only the fourth time in his presidency. At this point in his own career, Clinton had vetoed 26 times. Bush should take a lesson from Clinton and use his veto power more.
The infrequent use of said pen by Mr. Bush must mean the bill presented to him was so detrimental to the general welfare of this nation that it warranted being blocked. Was it an expansion of the Patriot Act? Did he veto an appropriations bill that diverts billions of our hard-earned tax dollars to thousands of local pet projects around the country such as $150,000 to restore historic buildings in Oneida County, WI, or $260,000 for Wisconsin cattle grazing research, or $70,000 for the Paper Industry Hall of Fame right here in Appleton? Did he veto a $1.2 trillion expansion of Medicare?
It must have been a bill that suspends habeas corpus and makes it possible for the government to detain anyone at any time for any reason. Right? Actually, no. President Bush signed all of the above into law. What he did veto was a bipartisan expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), a federal program designed to provide government healthcare to low to middle-income children who are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid.
For the readers out there who don’t know very much about public health policy, here’s a simplified explanation. If you are dirt poor, i.e. below the federal poverty level, no matter how old you are, the government will pay for your healthcare through the Medicaid program and has been doing so for 42 years. So this is not about helping or hurting poor children.
If you are a child from a low to middle income family, i.e. a family of four making anywhere from $20,000 up to $72,000 ($82,000 in New York), then you will qualify for SCHIP. One of my first concerns is that by expanding government-provided healthcare coverage into the middle class income ranges, many children who already have private healthcare plans will leave their providers to jump on the government bandwagon.
In fact, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 34% of the bill’s new beneficiaries will have moved away from a private plan. It’s one thing when the government provides health coverage to children who never had it and couldn’t afford it, but it’s another when families who were perfectly well off are now eligible for federal aid.
Another problem I have with the bill is the large increase in the federal tobacco tax, which will raise the price of a cigarette pack by 60 cents. That sounds sensible enough right? Smoking is bad for you and others and no Lawrentian likes the smell of cigarettes seeping in through their Plantz window. Unfortunately, relying on revenues from cigarettes shifts the tax burden to smokers, especially of lower income.
In addition, higher cigarette prices cause fewer people to smoke, which means that to fund the program Congress will have to recruit millions of new smokers every year. Why don’t they tax everybody equally and fairly rather than shifting the burden to low-income smokers? As to the idea of discouraging smoking in the first place, I think education works better than punitive measures. Ideally, everybody would quit because they wanted to preserve their health, not because the government made it too expensive to keep smoking.
Which leads to much of my opposition to the bill. I don’t like it when my money is taken and given to someone else by force, especially since the Constitution doesn’t mention healthcare at all. Americans generously donate billions of dollars to charity every year. The exact number is somewhere around $250 billion. If we weren’t taxed to death the number could be even higher.
I believe that a free market in conjunction with charities can deliver services better than the government. Also, where does it end? How long before the government takes complete control of the healthcare industry? This latest act was a stroke of political genius for the bill’s proponents, and a moment of political stupidity for Bush.
While I agree with the President’s veto, it’s too little too late. Why didn’t he veto the billions of dollars of pork barrel spending that passed through his office the last six years? Why is wasting almost a trillion dollars to no end in Iraq okay, but spending a fraction of that to actually help American children isn’t acceptable?
Americans have traditionally been skeptical of nationalized healthcare. Republicans are usually against bills like this, but the tides are changing and many of them know that to be viable in 2008 means supporting this bill. What scares me most is how the entire country is moving in this direction.

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