Make healthy kids, not war

Voting against SCHIP shows where our representatives’ priorities lie

Bill Durston is a USMC combat veteran of Vietnam, an emergency room physician, and a recent candidate to represent California’s 3rd Congressional District.

President Bush recently vetoed a bill that would continue and expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which provides medical coverage for children of low-income families. He stated that the bill would move the U.S. health-care system “in the wrong direction.”

But the bill received bipartisan support in the Senate, passing by a vote of 67-29, enough to overcome the Bush veto. The House version of the bill, H.R. 976, passed along more partisan lines, though, with area Congressional representatives Doris Matsui (D-05), Mike Thompson (D-01), and Jerry McNerney (D-11) voting for it, and Dan Lungren (R-03) and John Doolittle (R-04) voting against it.

In explaining his “nay” vote on H.R. 976, Lungren stated, “I support renewing SCHIP to help states provide health care to low-income children, which is exactly why I’m opposing this bill.” Hundreds of nonprofit organizations that watch out for the welfare of children, from the Children’s Defense Fund to the YMCA, apparently failed to see Lungren’s logic, and wholeheartedly supported the bill. Lungren claimed that the bill represented a step toward a “massive expansion of Washington-run health care for all Americans.” He continued, “People wonder how their government runs up the deficit. This SCHIP bill is a perfect example.”

The SCHIP bill would continue and expand a highly successful program started in 1997 by providing $60 billion in funding for health care for children of low-income families over the next five years. It would increase the number of children covered under the program from 6.6 million to more than 10 million. Funding for the bill would come from a 61 cent per pack increase in the cigarette tax.

If the Bush veto stands, the program will end in mid-November.

And while Lungren warns that the $60 billion in cigarette tax money allocated in SCHIP for children’s health care would “run up the deficit,” he seems unconcerned about the more than $450 billion in taxpayers’ dollars that has been spent already on the war in Iraq, or about the $190 billion more that that President Bush requested for the coming year for the ongoing occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Even Doolittle has professed to be “increasingly skeptical” about the war in Iraq. When a constituent recently wrote to Lungren, though, to ask him to stop voting to waste more money and lives in an endless military occupation, Lungren replied that he felt it would be a mistake for Congress to “micro-manage the conduct of the war.”

For Congressman Lungren’s information, “micro-management” is what low-income families do when they must choose between paying the rent or paying for their children’s health care. On the other hand, according to the U.S. Constitution, it is the duty of Congress (not the president or military generals) to decide when our country should enter into war.

The “nay” votes by Lungren and Doolittle on the SCHIP bill on the first pass in Congress were largely irrelevant, as the bill passed by a margin of 265-159. But to override the Bush veto, an additional 25 votes are needed. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has vowed to bring the bill back to the House floor. Over the next few weeks, Lungren and Doolittle will get another chance to show where their priorities lie: endless warfare or children’s health care?