Hippies and health care

October 21, 2007

What a bummer for the Democrats.

Just as their publicity machine was blasting President Bush and the Republicans for refusing to expand a health care program for children, the Senate decided a Democratic plan to spend $1 million on a museum commemorating the 1969 music and drug fest at Woodstock was at least one toke over the line - and stubbed it out.

This one pork barrel goody requested by the two Democratic senators from New York could provide medical coverage through the State Children's Health Insurance Program for an additional 250 kids at the rate of $4,000 annually per child. If all $400 million in senator-sponsored "earmarks" included in the health and human services spending bill at issue were rechanneled to SCHIP, an additional 100,000 children could be covered.

Such comparisons could be made, of course, between any two competing spending needs - Democrats frequently muse about what else might be done with money spent on the Iraq war. But at least the regular budget process allows for that competition. Earmarks are screened only by those who request them.

In the case of Woodstock, Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton decided to direct $1 million of federal money to a $100 million facility backed by a billionaire who has given generously to Democratic campaigns, including Mrs. Clinton's presidential bid. Mr. Schumer defended the project as an economic boon to a depressed community, but his colleagues were dubious.

Five Democrats voted with the unanimous Republicans to put the Woodstock money into a grant program for maternal and child health - one of many financed through the health department.

This pork barrel embarrassment does nothing to strengthen Mr. Bush's case for vetoing the SCHIP bill, or that of the House Republicans who last week sustained his veto. Most of the president's rationale was based on misleading or inaccurate claims that the SCHIP expansion measure was aimed at middle-income children already served by private insurance.

In fact, the legislation would get a burst of new money through a 51-cent-per-pack tax on cigarettes just to reach all 10 million children who are currently eligible. Only about half are now being served.

Time for Mr. Bush and the Democrats to smoke a peace pipe, put together a new bill and get this job done.

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