September 28, 2007 [LINK / comment]

"Compassion" mongers & SCHIP

Late yesterday afternoon, I happened to overhear Oprah Winfrey talking about health care on her TV show. (My wife had the day off and was watching.) Oprah's guests were obviously stacked in favor of the Democrats' proposed extension of State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Here we go again. The guilt mongering by the proponents of the bill on that show was so shameless that it just about made me sick to my stomach. (Call a doctor! ) One guy called on everyone to pledge not to refer to such measures as "socializing medicine." Why should we, if that's what it really is? SCHIP is a fairly transparent effort to "get the foot in the door" on a new entitlement program, making it next to impossible to turn back later on. (I wrote on August 4 that it amounts to "Tip-toeing toward socialism.") Ted Kennedy has been dreaming about this moment for nearly four decades, hoping to retire with a landmark liberal accomplishment under his belt.

The editorial in yesterday's News Leader summed up the measure very well: "Enacted in 1997, SCHIP provides health coverage for uninsured children living in families with income too high to make them eligible for Medicaid but below affluent levels." Translation: It's a welfare program for the middle class being sold as "compassion" for the "needy." To the editors' credit, they aptly noted the irony that President Bush has eagerly pushed federalization of the education system, contrary to traditional conservative principles. "No Child Left Behind?" (Without a note from the doctor?) Indeed, SCHIP is one more example of what a huge strategic mistake it was for George W. Bush to identify himself and his agenda with "compassionate conservatism." That malapropism completely misses the point of what it means to be a conservative -- namely, in part, to differentiate collective responsibility from individual virtue. That's something that modern liberals will never get.

Speaking of which, in Tuesday's Washington Post, E.J. Dionne made it clear that this showdown "is the first skirmish in the new battle for universal health coverage." He thinks there are enough moderate (weak-kneed?) Republicans to overcome a filibuster in the Senate, and he may be right. The Democrats clearly think they have public opinion on their side, based on last year's election results, and they are not shy about pushing forward where Bill (and Hillary) Clinton stumbled.

If you listen to the arguments in favor of SCHIP or other proposed health care entitlements, the recurring theme is high costs. Why doesn't it occur to anyone (other than conservatives) that the rising cost of health care is largely a consequence of subsidized health insurance benefits? When someone else is paying for something, there's not much reason to look for a better bargain or postpone it altogether. The SCHIP extension would only compound that onerous inflationary trend. It is a prime example of bad policy being promoted with appeals to emotion. President Bush will certainly veto it, as he told Nancy Pelosi earlier today (see Washington Post), and it's a shame it will have to come to that. What a pity that there aren't more Republicans in Congress who are courageous enough to put the public interest ahead of their own political fortunes, to prevent such bogus measures from being passed.