The House of Representatives has scheduled a vote tomorrow to override President Bush's veto of the 5-year, $35 billion expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program. It's the defining domestic policy issue for Republicans because it entails the size, scope and power of the Federal government.
The veto will likely be sustained, but not because of President George W. Bush's feckless leadership. He vetoed the bill in private, and it silently traveled back up Pennsylvania Avenue.
President Bush should have vetoed SCHIP with fanfare and a strong determination to explain why it's bad policy, why it's middle-class welfare and why there are market alternatives.
There was no White House event with health care professionals and experts detailing how this legislation forces children covered by private insurance into government dependency. No attempt whatsoever to communicate directly with the American people, which is what President Ronald Reagan would have done.
Instead, the President sent a signal to Capitol Hill that he didn't want a fight. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi were paying attention, and it's why they now are targeting about 20 Republicans in swing districts, or those known to wilt when the political pressure mounts.
If President Bush doesn't demonstrate the fortitude to veto ill-conceived and harmful legislation publicly, and with no apologies, why should his allies in Congress stand by him?
They should, but aren't.
The Congressional Republican leadership is also a profile in timidity:
“It probably isn’t the fight that we’d want to pick, but it’s a fight they decided to pick,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner.
That one sentence from Rep. Boehner sums up the Jimmy Carter-like Republican malaise on Capitol Hill, and how the party has learned nothing from the pounding they took in last November's election. The SCHIP legislation is one big step toward HillaryCare and Leader Boehner either doesn't know it, or doesn't care.
Why not pick a fight, Mr. Boehner? Why not expose the demagoguery coming from Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid? In a shameful display, they used a 12-year-old child, whose family lives a moderately comfortable life in Maryland, in their official response to President Bush's weekly radio address.
The SCHIP legislation was an opportunity to see how resolute, how determined President Bush and Congressional Republicans could be in advocating market alternatives for health insurance. They've failed. Miserably.
If Republicans can't articulate their opposition to a federal program with the word "children" in it, where the benefits also go to adults, and defend their self-proclaimed beliefs in limited government and freedom, they deserve to be a permanent minority. That will likely prove true next year on Election Day when the conservative base deserts them.