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Health Care: Letting The SCHIPs Fall

Earlier this summer, Congress passed bills that would increase five-year funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by $50 billion in the House and $35 billion in the Senate. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced this week that the two chambers had reached a compromise, and the House would vote on a modified version of the bill.

SEPTEMBER 20, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna,
Matt Corley, Ali Frick, and Jeremy Richmond
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HEALTH CARE

Letting The SCHIPs Fall

Earlier this summer, Congress passed bills that would increase five-year funding for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by $50 billion in the House and $35 billion in the Senate. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced this week that the two chambers had reached a compromise, and the House would vote on a modified version of the bill. SCHIP currently provides insurance for six million children; the planned expansion would provide coverage to an additional four million children who would otherwise be uninsured. SCHIP, a joint federal-state partnership that covers children without health insurance, is “widely regarded as one of the country’s greatest social policy successes.” A Senate report found that after the implementation of SCHIP, “the percentage of uninsured children declined from 13.9% in 1997 to 8.9% in 2005.” Despite the overwhelming majority of Americans firmly supporting greater funding, President Bush has threatened a veto. A veto would endanger the sustainability of the program, as the current SCHIP authorization is set to expire on Sept. 30.

BUSH THREATENS VETO: Bush has attempted to halt the expansion of SCHIP in two ways: he has threatened an outright veto of the program’s federal funding and attempted to subvert individual states’ ability to set their own guidelines for participation in SCHIP. White House Press Secretary Dana Perino recently promised that the President would only consider signing legislation if it conformed to his request for “$5 billion more over five years.” By blocking states’ capability to determine eligibility in SCHIP, the administration is undermining state’s ability to reach uninsured children. “The administration regularly touted the system’s flexibility as the key to its efficiency and a model for other federal health programs.” Now the administration is attacking SCHIP for that same flexibility. It has also attached qualifications for federal funding that are, by all reasonable standards, impossible to meet.

61 CENTS TO INSURE FOUR MILLION: The expanded SCHIP program would be financed almost entirely by a marginal increase in taxes on tobacco products. Bush has expressed his opposition to the bill largely on ideological terms, apparently finding an increase on tobacco products to be at greater odds with his ideology than four million uninsured American children. Reports have shown, however, that “higher state taxes on smokers have produced sharp declines in consumption. The amount of decline in smoking is directly tied to the size of the tax increase.” Even Bush’s own “Cancer Panel” recommended that Bush no longer “acquiesce to the demands of the industries that encourage” the “disease and death caused by tobacco use.” According to the American Medical Association, “for each 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes, youth smoking is reduced by 7 percent, and overall consumption by 4 percent.” Furthermore, the public overwhelmingly supports raising tobacco taxes, by a margin of 67 percent to 28 percent.

STATES SPEAK OUT IN SUPPORT: Governors from 28 states, both Democrats and Republicans, recently signed onto a letter written by Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) and Eliot Spitzer (D-NY), chastising Bush for his stance on SCHIP. They wrote that “your administration has repeatedly modified existing Medicaid and SCHIP rules, harming states’ capacity to help you achieve our shared objectives. The recently-proposed SCHIP rules will reverse longstanding agreements with the states and reduce the number of children who receive health care.” Spitzer has also also threatened to sue the federal government “on charges that new regulations on children’s health insurance violate an existing program that covers children from lower-income families.” Bush’s divisive stance on SCHIP comes in the face of bipartisan support at both the state and federal levels. The Senate bill passed 68-31, with enough votes to override a presidential veto. A bipartisan letter from the Governor’s Association wrote, “It is important that the program allow Governors room within which to establish coverage policies that work best in their state,” and “a timely and full reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) is the Governors’ highest health care priority this year.”

UNDER THE RADAR

IRAQ — STATE DEPARTMENT ‘DISCOUNTS’ IRAQI REPORT, CLINGS TO BLACKWATER LINE OF ‘DEFENSIVE FIRE’: On Sunday, employess of an American private security company, Blackwater USA, were involved in a shoot out in Baghdad that left at least 11 civilians dead. A spokeswoman for the firm told reporters that the “independent contractors acted lawfully and appropriately in response to a hostile attack.” On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack supported Blackwater’s version of the events, saying “the basic fact is that there was an attack on the convoy.” But yesterday, “a preliminary Iraqi report” stated, “There was not shooting against the convoy. … There was no fire from anyone in the square.” Witnesses who spoke to McClatchy supported the Iraqi report. The State Department has dismissed the report. “The convoy came under attack and there was defensive fire as a result of that,” said spokesman Tom Casey, adding that there are various eyewitness accounts. “This is different from an eyewitness account,” replied a reporter. “This is the Iraqi investigation. So you’re discounting their investigation.” State’s defense of Blackwater is not new. The Washington Post reports today despite continuing complaints, “many U.S. and Iraqi officials and industry representatives said they came to see Blackwater as untouchable, protected by State Department officials who defended the company at every turn.”

ENVIRONMENT — WAXMAN ACCUSES EPA OF VIOLATING CLEAN AIR ACT: Yesterday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) wrote to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Stephen Johnson, accusing the agency of violating the Clean Air Act when it granted a permit to a new coal-fired power plant in August. Waxman, “an ardent environmentalist, argued the agency ignored its obligation to meet newly established Supreme Court guidelines to regulate the emission of carbon dixoide.” The Court ruled in Massachussetts v. EPA that the EPA both had the authority and the requirement under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases. “Under the clear terms of the Clean Air Act, EPA can avoid taking further action only if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change or if [it] provides some reasonable explanation as to why it cannot or will not excercise its discretion to determine whether they do.” Waxman requested that the EPA provide the Committee with “copies of all documents relating to communications between the EPA and any other federal agency or the White House” relating to the decision to issue the plant permit by Oct. 3.

RADICAL RIGHT — REP. KING: THERE ARE ‘TOO MANY MOSQUES’ IN AMERICA, WE SHOULD ‘INFILTRATE’ ISLAM. In 2006, President Bush appeared alongside then-House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-NY) and heaped praise on the Congressman, calling him a “strong, strong chairman” who was “doing a fine job to help us protect this country.” The Politico reported yesterday that King, now ranking member on the Committee, is now directly attacking Muslims. In a recent interview, King said: “Unfortunately, we have too many mosques in this country. There are too many people who are sympathetic to radical Islam. … We should be finding out how we can infiltrate.” Throughout his tenure in Congress, King has regularly stereotyped and launched racist attacks at Muslim-Americans. You “could say that 80-85 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists,” he said in 2004. Muslims are “an enemy living amongst us,” he added. “They won’t tell what’s going on in the mosques. They won’t come forward and cooperate with the police.” Gen. John Abizaid recently stated, “the battle of words is meaningful, especially in the Middle East to people.” With members of Congress like Peter King, we continue to lose that battle.

THINK FAST

Senate conservatives’ successful effort to obstruct the Webb amendment yesterday mark the “the eighth time this year” that they “blocked a Democratic move to challenge U.S. policy in Iraq.”

71.1 percent: The increase last month in the numbers of Iraqis forced to abandon their homes, “the sharpest rise so far.

Mary Matalin, a former Cheney aide, is working to pay the legal bills of her old co-worker, “Scooter” Libby, to whom the President granted clemency earlier this year. “Make no mistake, Scooter’s battle is not yet over,” Matalin wrote in a recent fundraising letter. He “still has hundreds of thousands of dollars in outstanding legal bills from his trial” that “need to be paid immediately.”

White House officials say that, after the attorney general confirmation, the nomination of Steven G. Bradbury to head the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) “is their next priority this fall, though they have nine major slots at a depleted Justice Department to fill.” As acting OLC chief, Bradbury has been “advising President Bush on the extent of his terrorism-fighting powers,” but several Democratic senators have placed secret holds on his official nomination.

An anonymous senator has placed a hold on the nomination of Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez as U.S. attorney in Puerto Rico. Critics charge “she is leading a politically motivated investigation into Puerto Rico’s Democratic governor” on possibly illegal campaign contributions he received in 2000.

Rep. Jerry Weller (R-IL), “dogged by ethics questions surrounding his Nicaraguan investments and his wife’s finances, is set to announce his retirement in the near future, Republican sources said Wednesday.”

Osama bin Laden will reportedly release a new message soon declaring war on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. A banner posted on a militant website previewed the release: “Urgent, Al Qaeda declares war on the tyrant Pervez Musharraf and his apostate army, in the words of Osama bin Laden.”

And finally: Yesterday, Rudy Giuliani was “on the trans-Atlantic campaign trail…bragging about his international credentials. ‘I’m probably one of the four or five best known Americans in the world,’ Giuliani told a small group of reporters at a posh London hotel as onlookers gathered in the lobby to gawk at actor Dustin Hoffman, who was on a separate visit.”

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GOOD NEWS

Senate approves a measure aimed at curbing wartime contracting abuse by protecting “witnesses who expose corruption and waste.

STATE WATCH

LOUISIANA: “Tens of thousands of people” are expected to descend on the town of Jena to protest “excessive criminal charges against six black teenagers involved in a schoolyard brawl.” More about the Jena 6 HERE.

MARYLAND: Maryland Senate President “said yesterday that he would not support legislation to legalize same-sex marriage or civil unions.”

WISCONSIN: New legislation would allow health care professionals to “refuse to dispense emergency contraception to sexual assault victims if it offends their religious beliefs.”

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s party bans members from Al Gore’s global warming speeches.

CONSCIENCE OF A LIBERAL: New York Times columnist Paul Krugman starts his own blog.

TPM MUCKRAKER: In testimony, a former Justice Department official contradicts the Director of National Intelligence on FISA.

DAILY GRILL

“I’m the decision maker.”
President Bush, 1/26/07, on his authority to make Iraq war policy

VERSUS

“People listen to Petraeus, not to me.”
— President Bush, 9/19/07, on his authority to make Iraq war policy

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