Heller votes keep Nevada’s uninsured kids at risk

Then there was the time that the big cheeseball cruised into Elko on Air Force One, urging folks to vote for John Ensign and Dean Heller. The golden boys were standing by the president’s side. It was Nov. 2, 2006. A couple of weeks earlier, this newspaper had endorsed Heller against Jill Derby: “As a member of the Nevada Legislature and then as secretary of state, Dean Heller has been a reasoned, moderate voice for wise public policies.”

The endorsement surprised and frustrated many. That’s OK. One of the things I’ve loved about this paper is its ability to surprise and frustrate. I guess editors here decided Heller seemed like a Republican who would, when it came down to it, do the right thing.

But when a candidate’s inhaling fumes from the president’s airplane, something mysterious happens to reason and moderation. That whole wise public policy thing goes to hell.

Last week, Heller voted against the bipartisan compromise on State Children’s Health Insurance Program reauthorization.

The SCHIP bill was a new, improved take on the bill that passed the House and Senate in late September only to be vetoed by the president.

(At a later press conference, Bush assured reporters that despite the fact that few voters like him or his policies, he intends to lift his leg and leave his lasting scent on we the people whenever possible. “This is one way to ensure that I am relevant,” Bush said. “That’s one way to ensure I’m in the process. And I intend to use the veto.")

In September, Heller voted no on SCHIP. In October, Heller voted to uphold the president’s veto.

Presumably Heller’s four children Hilary, Harris, Drew and Emmy enjoy the health insurance of an elected official’s family. Perhaps Heller doesn’t think the 40,000 Nevada kids who rely on SCHIP deserve the luxury of being able to get the proper treatment when they’ve sprained a wrist or need an antibiotic. Perhaps he doesn’t think that uninsured Nevada children ought to be able to visit a doctor for check-ups or when they’re vomiting or running fevers.

Without SCHIP, kids who can’t afford doctor office visits will end up in the emergency room—where sick people can’t be turned away. The expense? We’ll pay it in increased hospital fees.

But Heller seems neither dumb nor mean. That’s why his vote baffles me. Perhaps he feels he owes Bush a butt-smoochy vote now and then?

Even without Heller’s vote, the new improved SCHIP bill passed the House with revisions to doubly ensure that benefits wouldn’t go to adults, high-income families and illegal immigrants. Senate approval’s a given. But the bill didn’t get enough votes in the House to stave off a veto.

Both versions of the bill expand coverage to around 10 million children nationwide, compared to the 6.6 million now enrolled. The cost of an additional $10 billion would be funded by raising cigarette and tobacco product taxes.

Children’s health care would not contribute to the $3 trillion surge in the national debt under Bush’s watch, most of which pays for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Last week, Bush asked Congress for another $46 billion for war. That would bring this year’s war tab to around $200 billion.

War spending has been used as a counterpoint for children’s health care. American taxpayers pay around $255 million per day for war. The SCHIP revisions would add up to 40 days of U.S. troops risking life and limb patrolling Baghdad.


Perhaps by the time this runs, Congress will get it through their heads that Americans don’t support this war. And we care about our kids. Let Bush kick and scream “unpatriotic” like a spoiled teenager. Be relevant, Congress, and just say no, no more dough.