The reason for their serene confidence in the power of this issue is how high the SCHIP program polls with the general public. Numbers in the 70-80% range are routinely cited.
And that shouldn't be surprising. After all, if you ask any decent human being whether the government should provide health insurance for poor children, you've got at least an 80% chance that the answer will be "yes!" And if you ask a Democrat, the chance is also at least that high.
As with so much in polling, it always depends on how the question is asked. And an interesting recent poll indicates that Denny Rehberg, far from "flip-flopping" or "running scared," both had the policy right and also politically handled this one pretty much perfectly.
A majority of Americans trust Democrats to handle the issue of children's health insurance more than President Bush, but they agree with the president that government aid should be targeted to low-income families, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll shows.
Breaking it down further:
• 52% agree with Bush that most benefits should go to children in families earning less than 200% of the federal poverty level — about $41,000 for a family of four. Only 40% say benefits should go to families earning up to $62,000, as the bill written by Democrats and some Republicans would allow.
• 55% are very or somewhat concerned that the program would create an incentive for families to drop private insurance. Bush and Republican opponents have called that a step toward government-run health care.
So, Rehberg got the policy right by originally supporting the House Republican bill -- which also expanded SCHIP, and aimed it squarely at the kids who need it most.
And then, he got it right by pointing out that while he preferred the House Republican version, the Senate bill was enough of a compromise that he would vote for it.
And he kept that promise and showed that he could work with the opposition.
It is hardly Rehberg's fault that Sen. Baucus wasn't able to work with the people in his own party (for the sake of the children) effectively enough to come up with a bill that the President would sign -- or at least a bill that a House supermajority would vote to override any Presidential veto.
And now, when the grandstanding is done, we can get down to the points that were always at issue: should the taxpayer be paying for health insurance for those who earn more than $60,000 a year -- and should the government provide incentives for families to drop their private insurance or for employers to stop paying for insurance for their employees?
Democrats say yes to both -- but that's not how they want to frame the debate in Montana, since they probably know how most Montanans will respond.
If they had wanted to know what Montanans thought, Democrats wouldn't have been just repeating the mantra of "children, children," but rather they would have been making the case all along for an insurance program that would encourage employers and families to stop paying for private insurance -- and waited to see if Montanans agreed.
Republicans and Democrats alike want to provide health insurance for children from low-income families -- that has never been the issue, but you wouldn't know it from the political rhetoric or from the newspaper editorials.
It's time to get this failed veto override over with, so a new SCHIP bill can be crafted, funding this worthwhile program for the kids who really need it.