by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
President George W. Bush has promised to veto a funding increase for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as SCHIP, one of the federal government’s most successful programs. It provides preventive health care to millions of children and reduces expensive emergency health-care costs. Bush cited the funding increase as fiscally irresponsible and berated Congress for “an irresponsible plan that would dramatically expand this program beyond its original intent.”
Hmmm. Yes, I’m sure Bush hasn’t proposed any programs that have expanded beyond their original intent and cost more than originally estimated. Surely this could not happen to the War President. Of course, yesterday was the start of the federal government’s fiscal year, and his secretary of defense is already requesting an emergency funding measure to add another $42 billion in spending for the Iraq war in 2008, on top of the $142 billion requested for this new fiscal year. Couldn’t even stick to the budget for one day.
Even when one looks only at heath-care issues, Bush seems to have changed his tune about spending. When Bush was pushing a prescription drug program in 2004, he promised it would “only” cost $400 billion, when most people in his administration knew the true costs would be in the $500 billion to $600 billion range. The one man who had hard data on the real costs of the program – Rick Foster, the chief actuary for Medicare – was silenced until after the bill passed. The costs were not as important as the politics, because passage of the prescription drug program was a key part of Bush’s re-election campaign.
But this is like comparing apples to oranges. After all, the Iraq war was started back in 2003, when the Republican Congress had abandoned the so-called “paygo” – a requirement that Congress must figure out how to pay for the expenditures it approves – and when the vice president was telling the Cabinet “deficits don’t matter.” After all, running large deficits while cutting taxes for the rich was the Republicans’ reward for winning the midterm elections.
So “deficits don’t matter” only applies when you are prosecuting discretionary wars, funding programs that are central to your re-election campaign or pushing for elimination of the estate tax. When children’s health is on the line, that’s when “deficits matter.” Now is the time to be fiscally conservative!
Ironically, the deficit would not increase with passage of the SCHIP bill. Congress has returned to the “paygo” principle with the SCHIP program and would fund it with a 61-cent increase in the cigarette tax. Bush has derided this as one of the largest tax increases of all time, one that would disproportionately hurt the poor. Bush also seems to be concerned that the increased cigarette tax would decrease the number of people who smoke, which would mean other sources of funding would be needed for the SCHIP program.
Well, that would be a nice problem to have, but given the fact that the FDA has been prohibited from regulating nicotine products, we don’t really have to be too concerned that people will stop smoking en mass. And if people did stop smoking, presumably health-care costs would go down, and with less hospitalization and a longer working life revenues would go up. So I think we can cross that bridge when we come to it without much problem.
Bush has managed to rack up nearly $9 trillion in federal debt so far. That’s about $30,000 for each of us – all 303,000,000 of us – to pay off at some point. Yet when talking about the SCHIP program, Bush says, “Some in Congress will tell you that $22 billion is not a lot of money. … The only way to pay for such a large spending increase is to raise taxes on the American people.”
How will the debt be paid if not by taxes? Sell the national forests? Sell Iraqi oil? Decrease pork barrel funding?
Without a clue or any real concern for how to pay for the debt or his own programs, it’s hard to see President Bush’s concern over funding the SCHIP program as anything more than hypocrisy of the highest order.