GOP Digs in on Opposition to Children's Healthcare
by Jonathan Singer, Tue Jul 24, 2007 at 09:11:53 PM EDT
It's bad enough for the Republican Party that its standard bearer, George W. Bush, has pledged to veto wildly popular legislation that would extend healthcare coverage to children who do not yet have it. But a party always has a capacity to distance itself from its leadership should it want to. Apparently, however, the GOP does not want to back away from the President on children's healthcare -- it wants to embrace his extremist and ideologically-driven position. Robert Pear reports for The New York Times:
Republican leaders of the House and Senate on Tuesday attacked proposals that call for a major expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program, to be financed with higher tobacco taxes.
"Republicans will fight these proposals," said the House Republican leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio.
In an unexpected turn of events, the top two Republicans in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Trent Lott of Mississippi, said they opposed a bipartisan bill that the Senate Finance Committee approved last week and would offer an alternative on the Senate floor.
Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado, a leading proponent of the House bill, said: "For the longest time, I was mystified why Republicans would oppose expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program to kids who are eligible but not enrolled. Now I realize. They are trying to deny us a political victory. They want to be able to say that Democrats can't get anything done.
There is reason to believe that DeGette is right -- that the Republicans are blocking this measure solely out of their diligence to the cause of obstructionism. Considering the fact that Senate Republicans are blowing away the record for obstructionism, certainly this is a plausible answer.
But I do not believe it is the correct one. No, more likely Republicans mean what they say when they offer their reasoning behind opposing the Democratic measure to expand SCHIP to cover more children -- they are ideologically opposed to taking this approach. The problem for the GOP in this case is that their position is terribly unpopular, even with the Republican base.
Take a look back at the comprehensive polling commissioned on the American healthcare system by The Times and CBS News earlier this year, Americans support the idea of expanding SCHIP to cover all children (a proposal that goes even farther than that of either House or Senate Democrats) by a remarkable 84 percent to 11 percent margin. Even Republicans overwhelmingly support such a measure, 72 percent to 21 percent. A majority of Republicans, albeit a smaller one of 57 percent, support the government providing healthcare coverage for all American children even if it means that their own taxes would be raised. As I noted at the time, my assumption is "that an even higher number would register support for a plan that would just raise tobacco taxes, not impose an additional payroll tax or increase income taxes."
So if Congressional Republicans think they are safe ground fighting the expansion of SCHIP on ideological grounds, they are sorely mistaken. They simply do not have the backing of their own base in this matter. Perhaps if they were blocking this for partisan reasons their base would stomach their actions, but as it is they might find themselves in real trouble, both with their base as well as with the broader electorate (which is even more supportive of the expansion of SCHIP than simple Republican voters).