We’re glad the House voted to sustain Bush’s veto of the bill to expand S-CHIP, the children’s health-insurance program. We think Bush is right on policy grounds, and that Republicans are in a better political position than a lot of people think.
The problem with the bill is not, primarily, that it represents “middle-class welfare.” Government policies have made enough of a mess of health care that even middle-class families can have trouble finding affordable health insurance. But the S-CHIP expansion is a perverse solution to this problem.
Its design guarantees that it will transfer money from poor states to rich ones, and from poor people to middle-class ones. It will lead to worse health care for some children. It will reduce social mobility by creating a poverty trap (wherein getting raises leads to a loss of benefits and thus of total income). And there are better alternatives: letting people buy cheaper insurance by reducing regulations, and ending the tax penalty for individually purchased insurance.
We understand why S-CHIP makes Republicans nervous. Nobody wants to be labeled as hostile to children. But over the next year the issue will inevitably take a back seat to the parties’ approaches toward health care in general. The Democrats may well be overreaching on that front. Universal coverage, their ideal, is not the public’s greatest concern. What they want is security in the health coverage that most of them already have. Being able to own their own health policies would give them that security. Conservatives can make that case — and if they do not want to make it, one has to ask why they got involved in politics in the first place.