Bush Leaves Kids Uninsured to Protect His Ego
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It can be embarrassing to admit a mistake. It can be really embarrassing to admit a mistake when you're the president of the United States and the mistake was taking the country into an unnecessary war. Admitting this mistake would be embarrassing to the president, to his party, and even to many Democrats who also thought a war with Iraq was a good idea at the time.
To avoid such embarrassment, the official policy of the United States is that no mistakes were made. As a result, more than 160,000 US soldiers remain in Iraq incurring casualties at a rate of more than 400 a month. Of course, the bloodshed and destruction has been far greater for Iraqis.
While it is less important than the direct human cost of this war, there is also the cost to the budget. By conservative estimates, the war is now costing the country $120 billion a year. This is equal to 4 percent of total spending or approximately $400 per person per year.
Another way to assess the importance of spending on the war is to compare it with other budget items that have been in the news. The State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) provides an obvious example. President Bush is threatening Congress with a veto if it appropriates more money than he has requested.
The difference between the bill likely to be approved by Congress and the amount requested by President Bush is $30 billion over five years or $6 billion per year ($20 per person per year). The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this money would be enough to insure another 4 million children.
Let's compare the amount in dispute on the SCHIP bill with spending on the Iraq War. The $120 billion a year in spending on the war comes to about $10 billion a month, or $0.3 billion a day. This means every 20 days we spend enough money in Iraq to make up the full difference between the SCHIP bill likely to be approved by Congress and the amount of money requested by President Bush. Since CBO estimates this additional funding would ensure four million kids, we can conclude that every day we spend enough money on the war in Iraq to insure 200,000 kids for a year.
For the moment, the prospect for shifting money from the Iraq War to SCHIP or other domestic priorities looks bleak. President Bush would veto any measure that sought to bring about such a shift and there is certainly not a veto-proof majority for such steps.
Perhaps there is nothing that can be done to change the balance of forces within Congress at the moment and, as a result, millions of kids will go without health insurance. But there should at least be some recognition of the sacrifice these kids are making to protect President Bush's ego. Perhaps we can issue them all T-shirts, or maybe even medals, saying something like "I sacrificed health insurance to protect President Bush's ego." If we can't actually guarantee these kids decent health care, we should at least be able to acknowledge their sacrifice.
Of course, there are other ways to pay for expanding SCHIP, such as cutting the subsidies private insurers receive in the Medicare program. We can also change the Medicare prescription drug benefit so the drug companies only get to charge the same prices for drugs as they charge the Veterans Administration. Taking back these subsidies would provide far more than enough money to expand SCHIP, but these industries made big campaign contributions for these subsidies and don't intend to give them up without a big fight.
At this point, it seems likely SCHIP will not be expanded, or at least not by as much as Congress would like. If the political die is cast, the world should at least know millions of kids in this country will go without health insurance in order to protect President Bush's ego. People should know the truth.
Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. TomPaine contributor.