Burr, Dole on wrong side of children’s health

by Jim Longworth

I was raised to believe that government is not responsible for subsidizing its citizens, but regardless of my individual prejudices, the harsh reality is that children are not to blame for the financial hardships or shortcomings of their parents. That’s why I supported the Childrens Health Insurance Program (CHIP) which , in its current form covers over six million kids.

Thus far the program has been sustained by a special 39 cent tax on every pack of cigarettes sold, which, in itself, might discourage teenagers from lighting up, and might lessen the number of children who are exposed to second hand smoke.

At any rate, the program is working well, so, recently the U.S. Senate proposed legislation that would expand CHIP’s reach to include medical coverage for four million additional children. Under the proposed law, children in families which make as much as $80,000 per year would now qualify for free health insurance, and funding would come from an additional 45 cent hike in the butt tax. The price tag for expanding the program would run about $35 Billion dollars over the next five years.

But President Bush and twenty-three GOP Senators (including North Carolina’s Richard Burr and Elizabeth Dole) refuse to support the bill, saying, among other things, that it would be too costly. These are the same Republicans who have racked-up three Trillion dollars in new debt, and are pushing for $50 Billion dollars in additional funding for the War in Iraq.

A few GOP Senators like Orin Hatch have their priorities straight and support the bill, but most have engaged in political rhetoric about the dangers of expanding a program that would keep our kids safe. Their warnings have included that the program will:

lead to government -run, socialized medicine;

encourage parents who already have health insurance to drop their policies in favor of the free coverage; and,

might open the door to fraud and abuse.

And then there’s Dole and Burr who represent a tobacco state.

I don’t care what other objections they voice against the plan, the bottom line is that neither Senator will openly support another tax hike on cigarettes, and that is sad.

Can you imagine anyone not advocating for ten million children to have medical insurance? It’s a win/win for everyone. Remember, the cigarette tax can have the dual benefit of saving lives of potential smokers, while helping to fund medical coverage for kids. Yet, not surprisingly Bush, Dole and Burr can’t see the forest for the smoke. They’re ready to waste another $50 billion in Iraq, but they can’t bring themselves to spend $35 billion to protect the health of American children.

It is also sad that opponents of the bill are trying to defeat it by spewing propaganda and by diverting our attention away from their own wasteful spending. For example, the GOP faithful like to rant about how a family of four making $80,000 doesn’t need free health insurance for their children.

Newsflash. $80,000 gross income is not take-home pay, and if a family of four

tries to purchase private insurance, they might find themselves paying as much as $2,000 per month in premiums. Just do the math on that, and you’ll see why a moderate salary doesn’t stand a chance against rising health care costs.

Of course Bush, Burr and Dole don’t have to worry about making ends meet. They are all fairly well-off, and they all have free government health insurance at their disposal.

I guess that means government subsidies for senators is a good deal, but government subsidies for children is not cost efficient.

Come on Richard and Liddy, even that airhead Miss Teen South Carolina knows that the children are our future.

If the senators refuse to vote compassionately, then it’s up to the rest of us to convince them that the kid care bill is in their best interest politically. So here’s my idea on how to spin it to Dole and Burr: Just tell them, “If you keep the kids healthy now, and if you keep the war going long enough, you’ll have plenty of new soldiers to send over to Iraq in a few more years!”

Do that, and I’ll guarantee that the Children’s Health Insurance Program will pass with flying colors. It’s a sick strategy, but hey, we’re dealing with people who aren’t well.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” which can be seen Friday mornings at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7), and Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on WMYV 48 (cable channel 15).