Bartlett has plan to insure poor kids

October 20, 2007|By GREGORY KANE

Just think of Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland's 6th Congressional District as this state's Randolph Scott.

In 1958, Scott starred in the famous Budd Boetticher oater Buchanan Rides Alone. If Boetticher were around today (he died in 2001), the acclaimed director might be inclined to do a movie called Bartlett Stands Alone.

Bartlett, a Republican, was the only one of Maryland's eight members of the House of Representatives to vote against the reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program. According to the Web site of the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures, the insurance program "authorizes states to provide health care coverage to targeted low-income children who are not eligible for Medicaid and who are uninsured."

Earlier this month Congress passed a new insurance bill (the current legislation expires Nov. 16) that would have increased funding by $35 billion and covered an additional 4 million children. President Bush vetoed it.

That's when the mudslinging started.

Democrats -- who voted overwhelmingly for the expansion, along with some Republicans -- tried to paint themselves as the "party of the children" and Republicans as old meanies who have a bee in their bonnet when it comes to poor kids. One Maryland blogger even targeted Bartlett, calling him "the scourge of Maryland" and accusing him of taking pride in being "the only member of Maryland's congressional delegation to vote against health care for poor children."

Is it any wonder renowned Newsday columnist and editor Les Payne has called the blogosphere "the Wild West without any sheriffs"?

The debate on how the program should be expanded is a wee bit more nuanced and complicated than Democrats telling Republicans "we like poor kids, and you don't." The insurance plan was passed in 1997, when Republicans had a majority in both houses of Congress.

Bartlett voted for it then, and he'll vote for it again, once what he thinks are kinks in the current legislation are worked out. On his House Web site, Bartlett explained to voters -- and bloggers in high dudgeon -- just what those kinks are.

"I am proud that I voted to create S-CHIP in 1997," Bartlett wrote Oct. 16. "I'm going to continue to work to ensure a safety net of health insurance for the children of the working poor. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that half of the four million targeted ... are children of middle-class families who already have their own health insurance, which they would drop for government-controlled, taxpayer-paid health insurance. It just goes to show that what advocates of this S-CHIP expansion really want is to have the government control how to spend the money that American taxpayers earn."

That doesn't sound like a man who's proud he voted against health care for poor children. Yesterday, Bartlett took a few minutes in a telephone interview to answer that charge specifically.

"I didn't vote against health care for poor children," Bartlett said. "I voted against an unwarranted expansion of what's been a very good health care program." Bartlett said the goal of the program was to help children of the working poor, many of whom are people who got off public assistance when welfare reform was passed.

"I want to reward the working poor for working," Bartlett said. "Many entry-level jobs don't have health care coverage, and if we mandate it, those jobs will disappear."

It's not just the "working poor" who've benefited. In Maryland, a family of four making just under $62,000 a year can be enrolled. Sixty-two grand a year ain't exactly poverty wages, but some Democrats have justified coverage for such families by saying that the bottom line is more children get health insurance coverage.

Ah, the children!

Bartlett has co-sponsored a new bill called the "More Children, More Choices Act" that, he says, will give middle-class families something even better than enrollment in the insurance program: refundable tax credits.

"I think of that part of the Lord's Prayer that says `lead us not into temptation' when I think about enticing middle-class families to give up private health care coverage for government coverage," Bartlett said. But a tax credit would put the money that a family making $62,000 a year spends for health care insurance back into their pockets.

"How could you have a better incentive than that?" Bartlett asked.

gregory.kane@baltsun.com

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