Lawmakers urged to overturn health insurance veto
This year, Congress passed legislation expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
The Democrats, who control Congress, passed the legislation with significant support from Republicans. It would add $35-billion to SCHIP over five years, allowing an additional four million children to join the program.
But on Oct. 3, President Bush vetoed the legislation. An attempt to override the president's veto is expected on Oct. 18.
The Senate appears to have the two-thirds majority needed to override Bush’s veto. But in the House, supporters say they still need 15 more votes.
An alliance of progressive groups has begun a weeklong campaign to pressure some Republicans to switch their votes and help override the veto.
Barbara Coufal is assistant director of Legislation for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which is part of that $1-million campaign.
“We’re lobbying furiously in Washington, D.C., but much more importantly, we are activating our members around the country to reach out to their members of Congress and to urge their members of Congress to vote to override the president’s veto next week.”
The campaign includes a TV ad that began running on Wednesday in the districts of some Republicans, including Tampa Bay area Rep. Mike Bilirakis, who voted against the bill. The group hopes to pressure these Republicans to change their vote.
Coufal said she did not know whether the targeted members of Congress are considering changing their vote.
“There are members of Congress, however, who are rethinking their vote and I’m telling you that based on a couple of the meetings that I’ve had with offices here in D.C., and meetings that some of our allies have had here in D.C., rather than people who are reacting to advertisement at this point. At this point I think it’s too soon because the ads have just gone up, to know whether they are going to have the impact that we hope they have.”
Bilirakis’ office declined to be interviewed for this story, but responded by email, in part, “… the bill the president vetoed … would have transformed SCHIP from a health insurance program for disadvantaged kids to a taxpayer-funded entitlement for adults and children from more affluent families.”
But Coufal thinks that overriding the veto is important.
“AFSCME is very supportive of covering uninsured people, and in particular this group of low-income kids. These are kids who are in families where the parents are working, but either they’re not offered insurance or they can’t afford it. And we think it’s really shameful that we would have so many millions of kids without coverage. And we absolutely support expanding our health system so that we can cover as many kids as possible.”
Some critics of the SCHIP bill say that it will cover more than just the lowest income children. But Coufal said that the bill allows states to set their own income level ceilings because incomes and standards of living vary between states.
“I think, though, that the criticism really is pretty baseless. The majority of the children who are going to be covered by this bill, according to the Congressional Budget Office, a majority of children are going to be kids who are at the 200 percent poverty level or lower. So this really is aimed at kids who are in low income families.”
Republicans are not the only members of Congress who are being targeted by activist groups hoping to override Bush’s SCHIP veto.
Blue America PAC and Blog PAC, two political action committees, are targeting five conservative Democrats.
Howie Klein runs Blue America PAC, which is made up of four liberal blogs. He said his group has made a series of calls to voters in the congressional districts of those five Democrats from Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi and Indiana, and they will be targeting those same districts with newspaper ads.
“There are five who are sticking with that position of sustaining Bush’s veto and we decided that we should let the voters in those districts know as well because the Democrats were only going after Republicans, which we think is a great thing, but we felt we needed to go and let voters in Democratic districts know that there are some Democrats who vote just like Republicans, just like the very worst Republicans. … All of them support the war, the occupation of Iraq. They tend to be like anti-choice; they tend to be like homophobic, xenophobic. Everything that you would associate with a reactionary Republican is pretty much true of these five Democrats.”
The funding for the increased children’s health insurance would come from raising the federal cigarette tax by 61 cents to $1 per pack. Two of the five Democrats that are being targeted by Klein’s Blue America PAC are from the tobacco state of North Carolina, Mike McIntyre and Bob Etheridge.
“Both of these guys are two of the biggest recipients of campaign contributions from the big corporations that have tobacco interests, so they are a little bit of a separate issue although they are both very reactionary and other people who take a lot of money from the tobacco industry don’t support this bill. But these two are sticking with the tobacco industry instead of with their constituents’ needs.”
Tampa area Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat, was also pressured by the tobacco industry, especially by Tampa cigar interests. Castor voted against this SCHIP bill but Klein said that his group was told that Castor would change her vote and override Bush’s veto.
“Although we disagree with her on this very strongly, we think she made a big mistake by not voting for this, first of all, we feel she’s going to come around to override Bush’s veto; and second of all, her voting record is really stellar, she’s one of the better members of Congress just on everything. You know, we don’t want to let her off the hook on this, because she voted wrong on it. Some of her reasons were interesting. She felt it didn’t go far enough, she said, to protect enough children. So there were a couple of things about her nuanced position that we were paying attention to. We still think she made a mistake.”
WMNF asked Castor’s office for her position, but she declined to answer. Congress will vote next week on whether to override Bush’s veto of the SCHIP legislation.
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