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Bush and the Children

Now that President Bush is down to his final months in office, one might expect him to be worrying about what he leaves behind — how history will judge him and, no less important, what sort of record he will leave for his fellow Republicans to run on next year. How odd of him, then, to decide at this moment to veto a bipartisan bill providing medical insurance to poor children.

Bush ran for the presidency seven years ago with a campaign that promised prudence, moderation and “compassionate conservatism”: a “humble” foreign policy that restores American greatness, attention to the weakest among us here at home, and efficient, businesslike management in Washington. Instead, to our lasting grief, he has delivered a reckless, gun-toting foreign policy that has decimated America’s world standing, set new records at home in economic inequality and produced soaring government deficits, generating a federal debt the size of the Mariana Trench. He even lost New Orleans.

If ever there were a time for him to switch course and dust off some of his old campaign promises, it would be now. He could announce a dramatic initiative to make America a leader rather than a hindrance in global efforts to save the environment. He could launch a serious effort to combat African hunger or disease. He could hammer out a sensible policy on oil conservation and alternative fuels. He could induce the Dodgers to return to Brooklyn.

But no. Bush chose this moment, after seven years of profligate spending and fiscal chaos, to show some budgetary backbone by denying medical care to 4 million children who need it.

In vetoing the popular congressional bill to increase funding for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, a federal-state plan that provides health coverage for children whose families can’t afford it, Bush and his aides announced that the president was taking a stand against creeping socialized medicine. He was denying employers an excuse to stop providing health coverage at the workplace. And he was keeping a lid on the budget to save taxpayers money.

But none of this makes any sense. The budgetary saving from his veto totals just $6 billion a year, out of a total federal budget of some $2 trillion. As for protecting employer-based medical coverage, it’s a lost cause. Companies are abandoning health care at a gallop; that’s a key reason for the current crisis.

Silliest of all is Bush’s notion that he’s blocking socialized medicine and preserving choice. Most Americans don’t have any choice. Their health care is dictated by their HMO. The biggest and best health care plan in the country is the military system, government owned and operated — that is, socialized — that covers military personnel and veterans, plus select government employees including the president himself.

The president may think it’s smart politics to keep children away from doctors. Congress shouldn’t put up with it. The veto must be overridden.


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