Republicans Veto Children’s Health Plans

Democrat Eric Massa has found his day in the sun. While in Washington, to challenge the seat of Republican Randy Kuhl last week, Massa could not believe his luck as he saw his opponent commit ‘political suicide’ right in front of his own eyes.

As his potential opponent voted against the expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Plans (SCHIP), Massa wasted no time in broadcasting Kuhl’s decision to the public. He went onto comment at a house party the following night that Kuhl’s vote represented the worst of the Republican Party: solidarity with special interest groups and a rigid refusal to stray from the party line.

While the bill got clearance from both chambers of the Congress with strong bi-partisan votes, it failed to get enough votes to override President Bush’s veto. Bush insists that the expanded program, by raising the income eligibility levels, would draw children away from private insurance plans and act as a first step toward socialized medicine. However, the Democrats being aware of the ideological debates, are already training their sights on the eight Republicans who voted against the bill, Kuhl being one of them.

Says Representative Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat and head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, “It is a defining vote; it says a lot about people’s values and priorities.”The Democrats’ priority in this case is clear enough. They intend to make as much noise as possible to bring attention to the veto that the bill has received at the hands of the Republicans. Whether they can eventually garner enough Republican votes to have the bill passed is another issue. Certain Democrat leaders insist on sending the bill back to Bush’s desk as many times as needed without modifying it, until it is finally passed. The Democrats have a clear win on this one.

The bill will either be passed or not. If the bill is not passed, it will be a media circus as the Democrats try to portray the Republicans as individuals devoid of human emotions, to the extent of voting against sick children. If the Republicans cave in and pass the bill, the Democrats become the undisputed champions of children’s rights and add a feather of legislative accomplishment to their hats. Either way, they have a win on their hands, and the Democrats are aware of every minute consequence that this vital bill holds for them.The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is already running radio ads against Kuhl and his seven colleagues, in addition to automated phone calls and e-mail campaigns. Amid this chaos, it would be incorrect to think that the Republicans are not battling it out. They point towards the compromises on the issue that they have proposed, taking as an example Bush’s plan to expand the program by $25 billion instead of the $35 billion proposed by the Democrats. They also claim that it was a Republican Congress that created the popular program to begin with, a decade ago.

Kuhl stated that he voted for a stop-gap measure that extended the program, which was due to expire this week, by 45 days and is co-author of a bill which would further extend the current level of funding by eight months while the Congress and the White House work out a compromise. The Republicans conclude by alleging the Democrats of turning this SCHIP into a political battle. The anticipated $35 billion SCHIP expansion is being paid for by a 61% increase in federal taxes on tobacco products. This is a move that Kuhl and many Republicans oppose as a ‘tax increase’, encouraging Massa to accuse the Republican of allying with big tobacco industries. It has been alleged that Kuhl received $10,000 from Altria and R. J. Reynolds, the two largest U.S. cigarette manufacturers, since 2006, according to Federal Election Commission Records. Kuhl has dismissed such accusations stating that he doesn’t wish to run another term, thus the word ‘opponent’ hardly holds any value with respect to Massa. The fate of the bill is yet to be met. What lies now, is for us to watch this virtual media circus between the two most powerful political parties in a country that claims to have exemplary democracy. Whether the real issue will ever be addressed amid this voracious spectacle, is a grave doubt. At the moment the sick children remain forgotten, as the Republicans and the Democrats claw at each other to find their rightful seat in the House of Power.

Shayoni Sarkar