Current polling shows that the American voters’ disgust with President Bush is nearly matched by their disappointment in the new Congress they elected last fall. A half-year into their term, the Democrats now controlling Capitol Hill have failed to make any major changes in the way business gets done. People seem to feel there’s no point in changing drivers if the car stays stalled.
A textbook case in the how and why of Washington gridlock is on display right now, in the bipartisan effort to expand health care coverage for some of the 8 million children whose families can’t afford it. The House and Senate are working on similar versions of a bill to expand a popular program known as SCHIP, short for State Children’s Health Insurance Program. The plan was first enacted by the Republican Congress in 1997 and signed into law by President Clinton. It provides health care for kids in families that don’t get it at work, can’t afford to buy it but make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. The extra cost, some $50 billion to $60 billion, would be covered mainly by raising cigarette taxes.
The plan has broad support in both parties on Capitol Hill and ought to be a slam-dunk. The public wants it, polls show. But the Bush White House is threatening a veto for frankly ideological reasons, because the plan looks to the folks up there like a backdoor sneak attack of socialized medicine. They want to solve the country’s health care crisis, as they tried in their Medicare Advantage plan, by reducing government help and wooing the uninsured toward private insurance, at greater expense to the taxpayer. President Bush says that health care is easily available to all the nation’s kids, at the nearest emergency room.
That leaves Congress scrambling to come up with a version of the SCHIP reform that might actually survive a Bush veto. But it’s a tall order, and perhaps an impossible one. Of such dilemmas are do-nothing Congresses made.