GOP Whistling Past The Graveyard On SCHIP
The House and Senate will hold override votes this week on Bush’s veto of the bipartisan SCHIP expansion, and while the House GOP's effort to sustain Bush’s veto is expected to succeed, that will only be a temporary setback to Democrats on this issue or the larger issue of universal health care for the 2008 race.
As Ron Brownstein in the National Journal pointed out last Friday, Bush is fighting a bigger issue than simply SCHIP in his veto: he is trying to keep the Democrats from breaching the GOP firewall against universal health care in 2007, a full year before the GOP is ready to have that battle during the 2008 campaign season. If Bush can’t scare enough of the base and independents in 2007 that an SCHIP expansion is a costly step towards government-run health care that gives the middle class benefits that only the poor should get, then the GOP is screwed for holding the line against universal health care next year. And yet several polls already show that although Bush may prevail tomorrow in holding off an SCHIP expansion for now, he and the GOP are facing a long hard slog to win this battle without suffering huge losses next year.
As I indicated earlier this week, a large-sample, small margin of error CBS News/NYT poll back in February showed huge support for an SCHIP expansion to cover all uninsured low and middle income children in this country, and even large public support for increased taxes to pay for that expansion. In fact, this poll showed larger support for government-run health care than for maintaining the current system. Yet along came Gallup this week with another poll that showed Bush’s arguments that SCHIP should only be expanded to cover all uninsured low income children and not middle income uninsured children was slightly more popular by 52%-40% than the Democrats’ plans to cover uninsured children in families making up to $62,000 a year. Yet even Gallup noted that there might be a different result if the benefits of covering more kids were explained in the question. But more importantly, it needs to be noted that these results came from a half-sample of barely 500 respondents, and this result has a large MOE of plus or minus 5 points, using questions that contain the pejorative and misleading phrase “socialized medicine” when in fact many SCHIP programs rely upon private managed care insurance companies to deliver services, a fact that the Bush Administration routinely and intentionally ignores.
Far more reliable are the results of another fresh poll last week, this time by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health, which found 70% support for the bipartisan SCHIP expansion passed by Congress that Bush vetoed. Even after Bush’s arguments against the expansion are explained to respondents, nearly two-thirds of them (65%) still support the bipartisan expansion and reject Bush’s arguments. In fact, more than half of respondents fear that the expansion will not go far enough. And in contrast to the Gallup poll, this poll had a large sample of over 1500 respondents and a low MOE of plus or minus 3 points. And one could even argue that the NPR poll wasn’t necessarily representative of the population as a whole, because 85% of the sample already had health insurance and also had no clue as to how a $10,000 annual health insurance premium would be unaffordable for a family only making $60,000 a year at a time of high housing costs.
The bigger problem for the White House and the GOP is that the battle won this week may be next year’s lost war. As the GOP tries to scare their base and independents away from universal health care with the same stories Harry and Louise peddled 13 years ago, polls show that scaring voters with fears that an SCHIP expansion will harm middle class voters who already have health insurance may not work this time around. Nor, if the same polls are to be believed will scare stories work about how universal health care will lead to socialized medicine and high costs. Respondents in both the CBS News/NYT and the NPR polls weren’t running away in fear at the mention of the GOP talking points, and in fact didn’t reject but rather embraced government-run health care. If the Democrats can develop a consistent and repeated message about the values and priorities represented by SCHIP and universal health care as compared to the values and priorities espoused by a White House and GOP that cares more about billions for war without end than they do about citizens and veterans here at home, this week’s loss will be next year’s annihilation of the modern GOP. And the GOP already knows it.