Goodbye, Mr. SCHIPs

Last week our Congress took an important step in expanding health care coverage for those who are most vulnerable: Children. The expanded program in question is SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program), a bipartisan initiative that was created in 1997 to insure children in families with incomes too high to receive Medicaid, but too low to afford private health insurance. By almost all accounts, the program has been a remarkable success.

On Tuesday, the House voted 265-159, and on Thursday, the Senate voted 67-29, in favor of a bill to expand the coverage of SCHIP to an additional 4 million of the estimated 9 million uninsured children in the United States. The bill sought $35 billion over the next five years to do so.

How would this program expansion be paid for? Through an increase in federal tobacco taxes, from its present $.39 to $1.00. To demonstrate the wide appeal of such a measure, no less a conservative than Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has endorsed the expansion, noting: “It doesn’t make me comfortable to advocate for such a large increase in spending … [b]ut it’s important to note that [SCHIP] has been tremendously successful. And one of the lessons we’ve learned is that it’s going to cost more to cover additional kids. … [It’s] a true compromise, a conservative-liberal compromise.”

So why the somber (though artfully witty) title to this post? Because it appears certain that the program expansion, and its attendant health insurance for nearly 4 million more American children, will not see the light of day.

President Bush has defiantly stood his ground in stating that he will veto the newly passed bill. Arguing that a more robust SCHIP will lead families to leave their private insurance for the program, he has repeatedly stated his belief that the plan is akin to “an incremental step toward the goal of government-run health care for every American.”

How can liberals and progressives debunk this fallacious logic? In a number of ways.

Firstly, it should be noted that SCHIP is not “government-run” health care. It is a public-private partnership precisely like the Medicare private drug plans (PDPs) that conservatives and the Bush Administration spearheaded during his first term. Moreover, the money for this children’s health insurance program is not mandated federally by fiat. On the contrary, it is distributed through the states with considerable flexibility in designing their individual programs. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has observed: “it is the states, not Washington, that set the income limits, contract with providers and set provider reimbursement rates, and determine most of the particulars of the health care benefit packages in these programs.” (hat tip: Center for American Progress Talking Points)

Secondly, the old bogeyman of “tax-and-spend liberalism” is not applicable here. By raising the revenue for this important initiative through an

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Published in: on September 28, 2007 at 11:03 pm Comments (5)

Surprise! VP is Not Part of Executive

Surprise! The office of the Vice President is not part of the executive.

Or perhaps not. But this is the startling constitutional argument being put forth by the Vice President in an effort to avoid compliance with an executive order which requires all “agencies and any other entity” of the executive branch to report the number of documents which it classifies and declassifies each year. To prevent such disclosure, the Vice President’s office is arguing that the Vice President does not meet the definition of an “agency” of the executive branch and furthermore, the vice presidency is not an “entity” of the executive branch. The office has reached this rather interesting conclusion by arguing that because the Vice President of the United States is also the President of the Senate, he occupies the “unique position” of “straddling” the executive and legislative branches.

While this is a creative argument, I am not sure it is a compelling one. Article II, section I, creating the executive, clearly establishes the offices of President and Vice President, with identical terms of office and election procedures for both. Furthermore, Article II states that “in case of removal of the President from office, or of his death, resignation, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President…” Thus, the Vice President is – crudely stated – sort of a “backup President.” It stands to reason, therefore, that because the Vice President could potentially become the President at any moment, the Vice President must fulfill the same requirements and occupy the same political branch as the President himself.

Article I, section 3 does in fact place the Vice President of the United States as President of the Senate. However, the entirety of this appointment fills only 23 words out of the 2,245 words that make up Article I. In addition, Article I, section 3 seems to contemplate the Vice President as essentially a mere tiebreaker in those rare occasions where the Senate is evenly spit, stating that “The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.”

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Published in: on June 26, 2007 at 10:25 am Comments (1)

Fwd: Executive Privilege (TTYL)

During the investigation of U.S. Attorney firing procedures, the electronic communications infrastructure at the White House has been intensely scrutinized. Many of the White House insiders, such as Karl Rove’s former assistant Susan Ralston, have been using private political domain accounts and even AOL accounts to exchange information. Instead of sending and receiving E-mails from addresses from the @whitehouse.gov secure servers, communication is passing through the servers of privately owned and operated companies.

One reason this is important is because sensitive government information has been routed through a company like AOL, which recently had a data breach and revealed sensitive records of hundreds of thousands of subscribers.

However, the major issue here is not overexposure of sensitive information, but rather it is the underexposure.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) feels that the President’s staffers might be deliberately sidestepping the automatic White House e-mail archiving system, which is in compliance with the Presidential Records Act:

“Now that we know that at least two White House officials have circumvented the law by using alternate email systems to discuss the U.S. Attorney firings and Jack Abramoff, we are asking Chairman Waxman to investigate whether the White House has continually violated its mandatory record-keeping obligation under the Presidential Records Act. This administration continues to disregard the law in favor of agenda-driven politics.”

The PRA was enacted in 1978 as a response to Watergate, and it requires that presidential documents be opened up to the public after no more than 12 years. President Bush issued an executive order in 2001 that sought to give current and former president and vice president permission to indefinitely withhold information from the public.

During this year’s Sunshine Week, an effort lead by the American Society of Newspaper Editors which encourages discussion about open government and freedom of information, the House passed four bills with strong bipartisan support that seek to increase government transparency. According to Sunshine Week, the bills passed were:

“H.R. 1309 (308-117) to strengthen FOIA and improve public access to government information; H.R. 1255 (333-93) to nullify an executive order limiting access to presidential records; H.R. 985 (331-94) granting improved protection to federal whistleblowers; and H.R. 1254 (390-34) to require the release of presidential library donor information.”

Congress sent a strong message to President Bush that his assertion of executive power went too far by allowing government records to be permanently sealed. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee said:

“For the past six years, we have had an administration that has tried to operate in secrecy, without transparency, without the public having knowledge about their action. Well, this week, Congress is finally pushing back.”

Though much of the Sunshine Week discussion focused the spotlight on the Bush administration, President Clinton had his own moment in the sun with the executive privilege. (more…)

Published in: on June 20, 2007 at 9:51 pm Comments (4)

SOTU

The State of the ACS Blog? It only works if you use it. After hibernating through a relaxing winter break, the ACS blog is back just in time to weigh in on tonight’s State of the Union address from President Bush. Feel free to chime in with comments, or send along a blog post featuring your reactions to tonight’s policy proposals.

After the well-wishes and congratulatory words, Bush dove right into the juicy topic of economic policy. Promising fiscal discipline with quotes such as “First, we must balance the Federal budget” and following it up with “we can do so without raising taxes.” Really? How? Oh, limiting federal spending but not repealing the massive tax cuts which created the abyss of red ink to begin with. Not to mention the $500 billion spent so far in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Earmarks? Want to expose them? Sounds good to me. But in the words of the Wall Street Journal, “Presidents like pork too.” It’s just not kosher. That sort of financial nepotism is on par to giving equine judges top jobs at FEMA. Speaking of which, was there a single mention of New Orleans or Hurricane Katrina in tonight’s speech after all that has been pledged in the past 16 months? (*Conducts word search on transcript*). NOPE.

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Published in: on January 24, 2007 at 1:26 am Comments (5)