Vetoing Children’s Health Care?

When a Republican president vetoes a children’s health-care program, the story that plays out in many people’s minds seems straightforward and obvious. It’s a terrible shame. Such a veto is a sign that priorities are askew in Washington.

But in the case of the president’s planned veto of the S-CHIP (the State Children’s Health Insurance Program) the “obvious” storyline is 100% wrong. In fact, this is one of those strange cases where folks at the U.S. Bishops’ Conference might actually applaud a president’s veto of a children’s health-insurance bill.

Both the U.S. bishops and President Bush once supported the S-CHIP — but now have raised significant questions about it. That’s because a new Congress has transformed this welfare reform into a Trojan horse.

The S-CHIP provides needed health care to many children — that’s why it is such a grave scandal that congressional leaders have tried to redirect it. They decided a children’s health bill would be the best place to set a dangerous precedent by taking dollars from U.S. taxpayers’ paychecks and using them to pay for abortions.

The S-CHIP debate is filled with paradoxes, but it isn’t so mysterious after all.

The program was created in 1997, when welfare reform was all the rage. It was only a few years earlier that President Clinton vowed to “end welfare as we know it,” and the Republican Congress gave him a way to do so — preserving the benefits of welfare while slicing off some of the waste.

The concept was simple and significant, both at once.

Instead of spending federal money on the poor from Washington, D.C., where the agencies distributing the money are far away from those who need it, money would be sent in block grants to the states. Not only would this approach be more efficient, it would guarantee that more of the money we contribute in taxes would actually reach needy people. Less would be spent on middlemen and red tape.

When the chairman of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee, Bill Archer, went into welfare-reform hearings in 1994, he was armed with papal documents citing the principle of subsidiarity. Yes, federal money should be spent on the poor, he said, but it should be paid out at the state level, because those closest to a situation are the best equipped to address it.

Both parties united to pass the legislation, and Clinton signed it.

This was in the days before the phrase “compassionate conservatism” became a campaign slogan for George Bush. Christian professor and publisher Marvin Olasky coined the term to describe just this kind of policy: one that paired our desire for charity with our need for pragmatism regarding our money.

The S-CHIP came from a later Congress, after the first wave of welfare reform, but it shared that principle: Federal money would be distributed by the states. S-CHIP money was to be spent providing health care to children whose parents were above the poverty line and didn’t qualify for Medicaid, yet couldn’t afford health care.

So why is it being vetoed now? Because when the Congress changed hands in 2005, new legislators were put in charge, and they decided to make two significant changes in the S-CHIP program.

First, lawmakers changed the definition of “children.” Republicans had made sure the previous S-CHIP program defined children as anyone “from conception to age 19.” That meant that pre-natal care was available to pregnant woman — for the sake of the children. The new Congress removed that definition.

Second, lawmakers added “pregnancy services” to the bill. Through this program, money withheld from your paycheck for taxes could now end up in the paycheck of an abortionist living in one of 17 states.

The old version of the S-CHIP used language that appeared in the Unborn Victims of Violence Act and the Fetal Pain Act. Together, these pieces of legislation made a compelling case, in federal law, that unborn children had rights, too. The new version of the S-CHIP reverses that gain.

The old version of the S-CHIP honored our nation’s longstanding federal policies against taxpayer-funded abortions. The new version of the S-CHIP makes an end-run around those policies.

The old version of the S-CHIP ensured that as much of our welfare expenditures as possible actually helped serve poor children. The new version ensures that as much of our taxpayer money as currently possible goes to fund abortions.

The old version of the S-CHIP had broad-based bipartisan support and the support of the U.S. bishops. The new version has the support of Planned Parenthood — and raised the ire of the bishops’ pro-life expert, Richard Doerflinger.

The old version of the S-CHIP was a very good thing. The veto of the new version of the S-CHIP is a very good thing — and it shows how crucially important it is that we have a pro-life president.