Thursday, October 4, 2007

Rep. Rehberg and the SCHIP veto

Now that President Bush has unsurprisingly vetoed the SCHIP expansion passed by Congress, voices on the left (as well as certain editorial boards) are curiously using the event to critique Denny Rehberg -- who actually voted for the bill.

Ostensibly, the message that these voices are sending to Rehberg and to all of Montana is that Rehberg needs to prove his worth by convincing Republican Congressmen to change their minds and vote to over-ride the President's veto, even though on the first go-round, those Republicans voted against this bill.

This is an obvious no-brainer for Republican Congressmen who voted against this SCHIP bill. If they vote to over-ride the veto, then they can fairly be criticized as having been heartless wretches deep down inside (reflected in their first vote,) and as having only voted for the bill the second time under withering pressure from the "good guys" -- i.e. they caved in, and have no principles.

Democrats running against them will thus have two talking points against them in the upcoming elections, not just one -- talking points that will hurt those Congressmen with the Republican base as well as with "swing" voters.

So it is not surprising that those in the know are writing off any realistic chance of an override. It would be suicidal and unprincipled to change one's vote on legislation that hasn't been altered to address one's concerns.

So, what should Rehberg be doing at this point? Certainly not what the Billings Gazette editorial board urges him to do (namely twist Republican arms.) Rehberg would be well advised not to trust the wisdom of advice that is offered by those who go after Congressmen and the President with hyperventilatory language:

"Bush puts politics first, U.S. children last" reads the histrionic Gazette opinion headline.

Right. Bush puts kids dead last. Behind every other government program, segment of the population, or request for money. Bottom of the heap. In the dustbin.

Glad we cleared that up.

And in another restrained and measured turn of phrase, the Gazette editors say that President and others who voted against this legislation are "wrong at best and downright heartless at worst."

Got it? Downright heartless. They grind poor kids under their heels. And maybe even enjoy it.

No, Rehberg should ignore the Gazette's advice and do exactly what he is doing -- stand by his vote for the legislation, saying that enough changes were made to it to satisfy his most important objections to the original Democratic House bill that he opposed.

Rehberg did what good legislators do -- he outlined what changes he preferred, and when he got enough of them, he gave in a little, too, and voted for the legislation.

But twisting fellow Republicans' arms to over-ride the President's veto? Think again. Not a good idea, both because the President's objections to the bill have some merit and also because it won't work.

Democrats know that no-one is going to be able to make an over-ride happen, and thus their rhetoric calling for Rehberg to work to engineer one in the House is an attempt to set up our Congressman for failure.

What Rehberg can and should be doing is to call for the Democratic leadership to stop procrastinating, and rather get right to a vote for an over-ride. Democrats are instead dragging the vote out for 2 weeks in spite of the fact that an over-ride isn't going to happen. Which shows that whatever other motivations they may have had, in this particular phase of the game they are angling only for political gain, and not for the kids.

Presumably Sen. Baucus will wait until he's run as many SCHIP campaign ads in Montana as he wants, and then tell Harry Reid that he'd like a vote. For the sake of the children, of course.

The program as it exists is safe, having had legislation passed to keep it going, but it needs to be settled with final legislation that includes a reasonable expansion of the program.

It is furthermore entirely possible for Congress to do something incredibly unusual -- actually negotiate with the President to see what kind of legislation that he would actually sign that would expand and strengthen SCHIP for children in genuinely low-income families. And doing so in a way that has long-term sustainability -- and that won't undermine private insurance programs.

Until now, Congress has chosen to try to craft a "veto-proof" bill, rather than to craft a bill that the President wouldn't veto in the first place. This is a legitimate attempt, but need we point out that the final bill they passed wasn't veto-proof? Which makes one wonder whether Democratic Congressional leaders like our Sen. Baucus intended simply to provoke this veto in the first place. Just how many changes would have been necessary to get 15 more Republican votes in the House (and probably a President's signature thrown into the bargain?) Probably not all that many.

There will be an over-ride vote once Democrats have played enough politics with children. It will fail. And then Rehberg can be right in there, working to craft a compromise with the President that will help just as many low-income children in Montana, and that will actually get the President's signature.

Remember this: Rehberg originally supported the House Republican version of the bill, which would have expanded SCHIP funding and coverage for the kids who need it -- and, which the President would have signed.

Rehberg made a good compromise in giving this legislation a try, and is to be commended for being someone willing to work with the other side. Now he can fairly call on his Democratic colleagues to stop playing politics, and to craft an SCHIP bill that will actually be signed into law.

Because a bill signed into law is the only kind that will actually help Montana's kids.


Anonymous said...

I watched Nancy Pelosi today on one of the Sunday morning talk shows, and she acknowledged that the SCHIP bill would extend benefits to families with 2 children who have incomes of $60,000 a year.

Are the people at the Gazette really that cavalier about taxpayer dollars? Are they really that heartless toward the people who have to pick up the tab?

You know, the newspaper's propensity to waste money in that fashion might provide some clues as to why media stocks are going in the tank.

Montana Headlines said...

From what we've been told by people who should know, the Gazette reportedly has employees that it intentionally keeps at 35 hours a week so it doesn't have to provide health insurance or other benefits -- so no, one shouldn't be surprised at any cavalier attitude regarding getting the government to pick up the tab.

On the one hand, perhaps we Republicans should go along with socialized medicine, since it would relieve us of the burden of paying for health insurance for ourselves and our employees.

On the other hand, since we already pay the vast majority of the taxes, we'd still be buying insurance for ourselves and for our employees -- only it would be run through the inefficiencies of a government bureaucracy, meaning we would pay more for less.

And then there is the small matter of the fact that we probably actually want good health care -- and we know that unlike Canadians, we won't be able to run across the border to get it if needed.

So... we do need to fight this thing after all, tedious as it is to have to listen to Democrats tell us that we hate children.