President Bush’s veto last Wednesday of an expansion to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program means that many poor children will continue to go uninsured even while our nation spends more than $100,000 per minute for the war in Iraq. Considering that alarming rate of spending, Bush’s opposition to S-CHIP on the grounds that it is too expensive is nothing more than big-government semantics. The program has proved to be successful at its current scale, and it comes with a reasonable price tag. Congress is right to try to expand it, and it must override Bush’s veto and defeat his flawed ideology when it meets to vote on an override on Oct. 18.

Started after the Clinton administration’s 1996 welfare reforms took millions of children off of Medicaid, S-CHIP was designed to cover the losses. By allocating block grants for states, the program provides health insurance to children who that don’t qualify for Medicaid and can’t afford private insurance.

The proposed changes in the bipartisan bill would expand S-CHIP by $35 billion over the next five years, allowing the government to insure between 3.2 million and 4 million additional poor children. This expansion would close the gap for a substantial portion of the more than 9 million uninsured children in America. Better yet, the expansion doesn’t add to the federal deficit because it would be funded by a 61-cent increase in the federal tax on packages of cigarettes.

After it passed the House and Senate with bipartisan support, the bill was killed by Bush with a veto citing his supposedly fiscally conservative principles. Already established as the single biggest spender in the history of the American presidency, Bush’s opposition on these grounds is laughable. In reality, he objects to the expansion of the program because of what it does: insures more people and dips into the profits of private insurance companies. Although he claims that he would agree to a $5 billion increase to S-CHIP, an increase that small would defeat the purpose of the bill.

As Bush says, the proposal is an expansion of governmental assistance to the poor. He’s also right that the bill moves our country more toward universal health care (socialized medicine, as Bush likes to call it). But none of that matters; it’s simply a distraction from the bill’s primary intent, which is fulfilling our obligation to insure every child in this country.

The president is keenly aware that his arguments are hollow. That’s why he wouldn’t allow the press to photograph him while he was signing his veto, unlike the fanfare that he surrounded himself with when he “promoted family values” by signing the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act in 2003. If family values are so important, what better way to promote them than by providing health insurance for children?

If the president doesn’t realize the importance of this bill, then Congress must force the change. The bipartisan effort, if it maintains its original supporters, already has the votes in the Senate and will only need a couple dozen more votes in the House of Representatives to override the veto and make the bill law without the president’s approval. Congress has an obligation to do this and thoroughly embarrass the president for his poor decision and asinine ideology.

Children will already have to foot the bill for the massive national debt we’ll pass on to their generation. The least we can do is keep them healthy.

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