SCHIP Veto Override Unlikely

The barrage starts in their home districts, where the Democratic campaign committee is already producing ads and robocalls proclaiming that GOP congressmen don’t care about children’s health.

It continues with Democrats on Capitol Hill pressuring these same Republicans to override President Bush’s veto of the state children’s health insurance bill, which was issued Wednesday.

There’s even some friendly fire, as Republican senators promised Wednesday that they’ll call certain House GOP holdouts to try to change minds.

But while supporters of the children’s health bill portray this intensive lobbying effort as having a realistic chance of finding 15 or so “courageous” House Republicans to buck their president, the reality is that the veto debate at this point is more about political theater and less about legislating or changing votes.

It’s highly unlikely any House Republican will turn 180 degrees and vote to override President Bush’s veto, but nonetheless, Democrats have decided to draw the issue out for two more weeks, until they hold the veto override.

Interviews with several of the targeted House Republicans — all of whom are considered vulnerable in next year’s elections and are under pressure to change their vote on State Children’s Health Insurance Program — give little indication that any of them would flip-flop on such a high-profile issue.

“This has less influence than a fly I swatted earlier today,” said Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), one of a handful of Republicans targeted by Democratic ad campaigns.

“Nobody in my district is going to change their mind based on something called SCHIP.”

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), who’s a perennial target for Democrats, said he welcomes the expenditure of Democratic advertising money in his district if it takes the heat off of some of his vulnerable colleagues.

“It’s certainly more complicated when you’re on the receiving end of robocalls and misleading radio ads,” Chabot said. “The public will not be misled by these radio ads.”

Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), who is running against the outgoing mayor of Kansas City, dismissed the suggestion that Bush has been a bad spokesman for potentially vulnerable Republicans, given the president’s low approval ratings.

“It doesn’t make a difference what the president does,” Graves said.

Graves said he would favor a small expansion of the popular children’s health care program but believes the current legislation has too many problems. “They can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig,” he said.

A bipartisan coalition supported the $35 billion SCHIP expansion bill.

But the White House argues it would move the program toward government-run medicine and away from its original intent, which was to offer coverage to the poor.

Even though there is no compromise in the works at this point, Democrats could win over more Republicans by explicitly banning the benefits from going to undocumented immigrants while lowering the income threshold that determines which families are eligible for SCHIP, according to some GOP opponents of the current bill.

Republican Rep. John R. Kuhl, whose upstate New York district is another big target for majority Democrats in 2008, says delaying the veto override for two weeks is a charade aimed at creating more buzz around the issue.

“They are still playing politics with this bill,” Kuhl said, adding he had no regrets about sustaining Bush’s veto. “I would hope they will quit playing politics with this and everything else.”

One Democratic aide did not disagree with the theory that Democrats are in no hurry to put this issue to rest.

“The leadership has a lot of sway,” said Kristie Greco, a spokeswoman for House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC.). “We want a chance to continue to build on the strong, bipartisan consensus we already have.”

In addition to pressuring politically vulnerable and moderate Republicans, the Democrats are also looking for openings with House Republicans who voted with Democrats on social priorities like the minimum wage increase and recent legislation that dramatically increased college aid.

This includes Republicans like John Boozman of Arkansas, Thaddeus G. McCotter of Michigan and Jim Saxton of New Jersey.

The House veto override on SCHIP is scheduled for Oct. 18. Between now and then, if you live in one of the districts Democrats think they can pick up in 2008, such as the suburban Detroit district of Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R), you can expect the Democrats to hit your airwaves.

“Representative Knollenberg will be held accountable if he continues to stand with the president against Michigan’s kids,” said Jennifer Crider, the communications director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Knollenberg aides said Detroit-area stations are refusing to run the ads but that could not be independently confirmed.

Knollenberg seems unmoved by the political rhetoric.

“This issue is a gift for us,” said his chief of staff, Trent Wisecup.

“The congressman voted to create SCHIP, and he wants to extend SCHIP. But this bill is about political theater and [Democrats] want to play out this drama.”
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