Bill Murchison
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Memo to the president's foes: It helps sometimes to have a president you hate. Think of the bad choices he can save you from, including those you urge on him. Consider the present guttural outcry -- HOW DARE THIS CHILD-HATER VETO THE CHILDREN'S HEALTH INSURANCE BILL?

How dare he? On account of due appreciation for the need to squash the kind of foolishness that eventually turns and bites proponents as well as adversaries. That's the State Children's Health Insurance bill to a tee.

What fun in the short run to bash George Bush for nixing a bill that extends government-paid health insurance to middle-class families earning as much as $62,000! Here is Families USA on the matter: "Bush vs. Kids." Here's another such bon mot: "President Bush to Children: No Health Care for You."

Which is intellectual pollution of a variety suitable for removal and preservation behind glass. The president was ready to sign onto, and sign, legislation directed toward renewing subsidization of uninsured poor children. He never got the chance. With terrified Senate Republicans joining the stampede, Congress decided, why not open up this health insurance thing and get a little credit at the polls next year? By bringing middle-class families into the program, the majority of them with private insurance, members of both parties see themselves reaping substantial gratitude.

Well, naturally. Don't you want something free, or perceived as such? It's a modern habit -- one in which politicians devoutly believe -- to say, sure, bring it on.

This consideration inspires Bushophobes to see the debate over Bush's veto of the legislation, and the override vote set for this week in the House, as succulent fare. How can the government-expanders lose? If the override vote fails, it's Bush's fault. Did we mention all Republicans hate kids? If, on the other hand, House and Senate override and the bill becomes law, the gratitude of a newly entitled constituency becomes large and real and warm. Can you beat it?

Not in the short run, maybe. Political tacticians who see "kid-hating" as a grand, glorious catchphrase are unlikely to be moved by considerations of intellectual seriousness. They are likelier to rejoice that the road to universal national health care seems more open than it has in years -- maybe more open than ever before.

From families with $62,000 annual incomes, it's the merest jump to the governmental embrace of families with incomes of $82,000. Once at that level, what stands between Congress and expansion of government health insurance to the whole population? Excepting, of course, those popular caricatures, "the wealthy," for whom all Republican-generated tax cuts are supposedly tailored and crafted. It's what we might call the incremental approach to a problem that registers with voters.

But I earlier said Bush, in vetoing the children's health insurance bill, was saving his critics and adversaries from themselves. How so?

First, better means of solving the health insurance conundrum exist -- namely, extension to the whole population of tax-exempt savings accounts for health care. Why should there be insurance in the first place, except for the worst stuff, generally known as "catastrophic"? Insurance you pay for but don't use is money down the drain. The more you expand government health insurance, the unlikelier it becomes you'll try what actually would work -- like choice.

Second, bad as the present system may be, it beats the national system for which control freaks clamor: an English- or Canadian-type system, financed by whopping taxes, wherein entitlement to access is offset by the inadequacy of the care such access provides.

Not even the "Bush vs. Kids" fraternity -- I earnestly hope -- yearn for a system that puts crucial health care decisions in the hands of Those Who Know Best for Us. The president's veto, which stalls briefly anyway the rush to national health insurance, is a favor to everyone -- not least those who imagine voters rush right out to thank the politician whose schemes make life costlier and harder than it was to begin with.

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Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
 
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