Proudly Blocking Children's Health Care

Republican leaders apparently like to lose.

Top GOP senators Mitch McConnell and Trent Lott are opposing the bipartisan deal to cover more kids with health insurance, siding with President Bush over other Republicans like Senators Orrin Hatch and Charles Grassley.

The bill to invest $7 billion a year to cover an additional 3 to 4 million children probably can still overcome a conservative filibuster. But with the Senate minority leadership fighting against it, it has less of a chance to override a presidential veto.

With Republican and Democratic voters expressing huge support for children's health insurance, what are these guys thinking?

Bush is refreshingly candid:

If their proposal becomes law ... many of these people would give up the private health insurance they have now as they move to government health care ... Their goal is to take incremental steps down the path to government-run health care for every American.
Let's put aside the facts that the Senate bill would primarily reach uninsured kids and not those already covered; that the children's program relies on private health plans, just with decent standards so taxpayer funds are spent efficiently; and that Bush and allied conservatives are defending another program that inefficiently funnels Medicare dollars to private plans.

What Bush said is he doesn't want people to "give up" private insurance.

He's not afraid of a government plan being imposed on people. He's afraid that given a fair choice, people would choose a public plan over a private plan.

But this is not a question of government versus no government.

This is a question of good government versus bad government.

Bush and fellow conservatives are just fine with government subsidies to prop up Medicare Advantage private plans, even though they cost taxpayers more than the traditional Medicare public plan.

They are just fine keeping the children's insurance program, so long as we underfund it and millions remain uninsured.

As Robert Borosage commented earlier: "faced with a choice of providing children with health care or protecting the profits of private insurance companies, the president chooses the latter."

They are afraid of how good government can undermine their conservative goals, their special interest backers and their own political careers.

Just as they did in 1993, when they decided they had to kill universal health care, because "[i]ts passage will give the Democrats a lock on the crucial middle-class vote and revive the reputation of the party."

Lott recently said "the strategy of being obstructionist can work or fail. So far it’s working for us.” But McConnell's approval ratings in his home state are at 48%, their lowest point in two years.

We'll see if that trend will continue, after he leads the charge against health insurance for kids.

More from Matthew Yglesias, Brendan Nyhan and Dean Baker

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