When the SCHIP bill fails to override the president's veto in a week or so, it will be because of people like my representative, Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI).
Close political observers may recognize the name: he's the man who stood with then-Sen. Rick Santorum in a famous public declaration that weapons of mass destruction had indeed been found in Iraq. Or you may recall that he was the congressman most responsible for the early release of classified documents placed on the web, in the hope that readers would find some as yet undetected sign of those very same WMD; instead, the documents turned out to have valuable intelligence data.
I wrote to Hoekstra recently urging him to approve of the new SCHIP bill. Here is his reply. Note the crocodile tears over the plight of the poor:
Thank you for contacting me about the SCHIP reauthorization bill. I support SCHIP reauthorization. In 1997, Congress created SCHIP to provide block grants to states so that they could create health insurance plans for children in poor families who were not eligible for Medicaid. I believe the program has been successful in reducing the number of poor, uninsured children. Unfortunately, many states have taken the liberty of expanding their programs to cover adults or children from higher income families, rather than focus their programs on enrolling many of the 9 million uninsured children that are already eligible for SCHIP benefits.
The SCHIP reauthorization bill, vetoed by the President, would expand benefits to individuals up to 21 years old and children in families that earn approximately $66,000. The bill guaranteed no protections to ensure that illegal immigrants would not qualify for SCHIP.
A Congressional Budget Office study revealed that 77 percent of children who would be impacted by the expansion already have personal health insurance. Increasing income eligibility for SCHIP will create a taxpayer-funded incentive to switch to the government run program.
The bill also imposed a 156 percent tax increase on cigarettes to pay for the expansion of the program, which will disproportionately impact the poor. I support efforts to curb smoking; however, this proposal will need more people to start smoking so that the federal government can pay for the program.
I understand individuals have strong feelings about reauthorizing SCHIP. I want you to know that I support reauthorization of the program, and I hope that Congress will work in a bipartisan fashion to strengthen the health insurance program so that it covers more low-income children who are truly in need.
Again, thank you for taking the time to share your views with me.
A few notes: Pete's first paragraph expresses concern about use of SCHIP to cover adults, and some states did do this, but the new law phases out this option. And, regarding illegal immigrants, SCHIP actually forbids the use of funds for illegal immigrants. Read Pete closely and it's really that "the bill guaranteed no protection" that illegals would not qualify. Again, actually, the objection is over forcing states to demand onerous proof of citizenship for all applicants, such as providing birth certificates, rather than establish their own standards, that is at issue.
I would add one more thing: over the past few years, few state governments have struggled as much as Michigan's to make ends meet. As a result of these hard times, Michigan already has among the highest STATE tax rates for cigarettes in the country, something Michigan state Republicans had no problem with endorsing when the alternative might have been state INCOME tax increases.
And the enormous tobacco settlement that provided states with huge revenues over the past few years (from the case that inspired the film "The Insider") was, in Michigan's case, entirely spent on general spending instead of its intention, anti-smoking programs - again with Michigan state Republican approval as an alternative to an income tax increase. You'd have to look hard to find ANY state that spent less of its tobacco settlement on actual anti-smmoking programs than Michigan did.
I'd be glad to hear from others on reflections on Pete's views.