Debra J. Saunders

The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll found that seven in 10 Americans support the new bill to increase the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by $35 billion, which President Bush vetoed Wednesday.

Of course most Americans support the bill. It's for the children, and the way supporters push it, it's practically free. If Bush seems so clearly out of touch with the voters (as well as moderate and conservative elected Republicans) on the politics, then on a policy level he had reason to veto the bill.

The Senate and House have found the worst mechanism to fund the SCHIP expansion -- a 61 cents per pack increase in cigarette taxes. It is as if Washington Dems and Repubs have reached a cynical pact -- an agreement to pass bills that expand the size and scope of government, without ever coming up with an honest way to pay for them.

The cigarette tax is regressive and inadequate. But that matters little. In this Washington, no program is so important that average taxpayers should have to pay to expand it. For Bush's part, like many Repubs, he opposes any tax hike, including a tax increase to fund SCHIP. Democrats want bigger government, without cutting other domestic programs. So both parties have fallen into a default agreement -- more spending without even a modest, broad-based tax to fund it.

Supporters talk about providing more health care for poor children. Yet in six states, the Bush administration points out, SCHIP spends more on adults than children. Urban Institute health policy expert Genevieve M. Kenney explained that some 10 states, which had expanded health care for kids, were granted federal waivers to use SCHIP money for adults. She added that the new congressional bill would sharply limit SCHIP funding for adults.

The Bushies also argue that the congressional bill isn't about providing health care for poor kids -- as it would expand SCHIP for children of the middle class, with family incomes as high as $62,000 per year -- many of whom already receive employer-funded health care. In short, the vetoed bill does not put the neediest kids first.

Actually, the Bushies have argued the bill could cover children with families earning as much as $83,000 annually -- but that dishonest figure, as The Washington Post pointed out, represents a request by New York to cover families earning four times the poverty level, which the administration nixed.

Debra J. Saunders

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