On Children's Health, An All-Around Depressing Account

Thanks to Robert Pear of The New York Times, a tireless reporter who knows healthcare better than most of us know anything, for exposing the real story behind the political battle over children's health insurance. It is depressing.

In his account Monday, Pear explained that a group of Republican and Democratic senators lead by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and his GOP Vice Chairman Chuck Grassley (Iowa) embarked last spring on what can only be described as a mission these days on Capitol Hill to forge a compromise on an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Meeting nearly every day into the summer months, often for up to two hours, the senators defied the culture of partisan gridlock that has chilled progress in Congress for years.

President Bush started the ugly battle on SCHIP, firing first when he announced on June 27 that he opposed their idea, which he claimed would cost too much and lead to “government-run healthcare for every American.” Grassley said he and his colleagues were shocked by Bush's comments and veto threat, telling the Times it was not only premature but “disappointing, even a little unbelievable.” There was plenty more politics on SCHIP after that, but it can't all be laid at the hands of Bush. After the veto last month, as the lawmakers hoped again to locate middle ground, they found this time it was the Democrats who were willing to throw the children to the political wind. Republicans said they were invited to meet with Democrats about the new bill on Oct. 25, which had been introduced the day before. But, said Rep. Thelma Drake (R-Va.), the GOP was there to listen, not to add anything or negotiate. “The Democrats refused to delay the vote because they had already purchased ads against us in our districts,” Drake was quoted as saying in the Times.

It's comforting to know that it isn't just the president or the U.S. Congress blocking solutions to America's problems. It's both.

***

What is the most pressing issue Congress is now avoiding, putting off or failing to act on? I want to talk about it on Ask AB, my weekly video Q & A. Write to me at askab@thehill.com.