House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) blamed “hate radio” for demeaning children who were being used to lobby for an expansion of federally funded health insurance in a press conference late Tuesday morning.
In the run-up to a House vote to override President Bush’s veto of a $35 billion increase to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, children like the 12-year old Graeme Frost---who suffered brain injuries after a car accident-- have been pushed to the forefront of the debate.
Frost’s position as a so-called “poster child” for SCHIP became controversial when his family’s assets were investigated.
This reporter asked Pelosi “Is it appropriate for opponents of SCHIP expansion to openly question the circumstances that led some children to become spokespeople for that expansion?”
Pelosi replied that she “would not censor” critics and “I can’t control what they have to say,” but much of it was “beneath the integrity of the debate.”
She classified many of the “attacks that impugn children” as coming from “hate radio.”
Pelosi invited Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah), also at the press conference to support SCHIP expansion, to address the question. Both declined.
At another point, Reid did offer that he believed opponents of SCHIP had “mischaracterized and misled” the public.”
The House is currently scheduled to have a vote to override the President’s SCHIP veto on Thursday. President Bush has agreed to expand the program by $5 billion, but Democrats are demanding a $35 billion increase.
When the vote occurs, two-year old Bethany Wilkerson, who experienced heart failure as an infant, is expected to watch members make their vote from a high perch in the visitors gallery that sits above House floor. Her family says she would not be alive without SCHIP.
The override is expected to fall 15 votes short and an intense lobbying effort is being conducted by groups like Americans United for Change, MoveOn.org, and Big Labor on Capitol Hill to change those 15 votes. These groups have aired radio ads in more than 20 Republican members’ home districts to help sway them. These groups also rallied behind Pelosi, Reid and Hatch at the Capitol Hill event.
Reid claimed on Tuesday that 69 Senators support expanding the program by $35 billion. This is two more than the 67 needed to override the veto in that chamber.
Jim Williams, president of the non-profit community based health agency Easter Seals, said more than 300 Easter Seals members and staff were present in Washington to lobby Congress for the expansion. There are also cross-country candlelight vigils being held Tuesday evening for the cause.
Celebrity musician Paul Simon, who co-founded the Children Health Fund, also spoke at the event. He implored critics of SCHIP expansion to “reexamine their conscience and find compassion in your hearts.”
Paul’s co-founder Dr. Irwin Redlener described their organization as a “publicly-funded private health care solution” during the question and answer period of the press conference and said the lack of children’s health coverage in the United States was “a major problem with no other parallel on this Earth.”
Redlener said it was being beaten back “with disparaging or mindless slogans about socializing healthcare.”
He remarked, “If I were Emperor, this bill would be $55 billion, not $35 billion.”