Three Weeks of War or One Year of Health Coverage for Kids? (Rep. Xavier Becerra)

Of all the reasons President Bush could use to oppose providing basic health coverage to the children of America’s working families, fiscal restraint raises the most eyebrows.

This has been perhaps the most fiscally irresponsible White House in American history, aided for six years by a Republican Congress. As the Wall Street Journal recently pointed out, many fiscal conservatives, including such prominent figures as Alan Greenspan and Bruce Bartlett, have become disillusioned with the reckless spending and tax cutting of the previous Bush administration-led Congresses. Given all this and coupled with the war in Iraq, it’s hard to take the president’s veto rationale seriously.

In the short amount of time between the day the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) reauthorization bill was sent to the president (September 27) and the date the House will vote on overturning the president’s veto (October 18) -- three weeks -- we will have spent $7 billion for Iraq. That is the exact amount of funding we need to provide health insurance to 10 million American children for one year.

It deserves repeating: covering America’s 10 million uninsured children for a year costs the same amount as waging three weeks of war in Iraq.

This is the president’s idea of fiscal responsibility: he borrows as many billions of dollars as he likes for a war in Iraq that has no clear plan for success and hands the bill over to the next generation. He then refuses to provide that same generation with basic health insurance, which would cost a miniscule fraction of the cost of the war. And then he tells them to just go to the emergency room if they get sick, which, ironically enough, is more costly to government in the long run than simply insuring the kids.

The president’s supporters don’t stop there. Radical right-wing blogs and columnists have tried to paint the Frost family, whose son Graeme recorded the September 29 Democratic radio address supporting SCHIP reauthorization, as fraudulently receiving aid. Yet they unquestionably support Blackwater and Halliburton even as the evidence mounts of the waste, fraud and abuse that has resulted from their work in Iraq. Attacking working families while defending war profiteers has become an unfortunate habit in some Republican circles.

I wish I could take comfort in the fact that 72 percent of Americans support the SCHIP reauthorization package that has passed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, or that a large minority of Republicans in Congress support it (45 in the House, 18 in the Senate), or that over 270 independent health organizations were supporting our efforts. But this is no time to take comfort. My colleagues (on both sides of the aisle) and I are working hard right now to overturn the president’s veto. Please join us. Call your Representative and Senators. Tell your friends and family to do the same. The vote to overturn the veto is this Thursday, October 18. Together we can do this. Ten million children are depending on us.