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The Deacon's Bench

There’s been a lot of discussion and debate lately about the controversial S-CHIP plan to provide health care for low-income families. Now, a group of Catholics has weighed in on the subject, and Ryan Anderson at the Weekly Standard has this reaction:

If you don’t support using federal funds to help middle-class families get health insurance, then you can’t call yourself pro-life. Or so says Catholics United, a “non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting the message of justice and the common good found at the heart of the Catholic Social Tradition.”

Yesterday the group launched a series of radio ads attacking 10 Christian members of Congress who voted against the Democrats’ bill to reauthorize — and expand — the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). President Bush vetoed the bill earlier this month and the vote to override his veto will take place this week. Catholics United hopes to pressure these congressmen to reverse their vote by arguing that they have “compromised their pro-life voting records.”

The ads, running on Christian and talk radio stations across the United States, close with this plea: “I’m the mother of three children, and I’m pro-life. I believe that protecting the lives of our children must be our nation’s number one moral priority. That’s why I’m concerned that Congressman X says he’s pro-life but votes against health care for poor children. That’s not pro-life. That’s not pro-family. Tell Congressman X to vote for health care for children.”

Some facts may help. SCHIP is a Clinton-era program designed to assist poor children who don’t qualify for Medicaid but whose families can’t afford private insurance. For these children, the federal government provides subsidized health care.

The plan’s 10-year charter has just expired and it was up to Congress to send to President Bush a bill reauthorizing the program. But when they did, they changed it radically. As Fred Barnes pointed out: “Rather than keep SCHIP’s cap at 200 percent of poverty ($41,300 for a family of four), the bill would raise it to 300 percent ($61,950) nationally and even higher in New Jersey ($72,285) and New York ($82,300).” In other words, they turned a program assisting truly poor children into a welfare program for the middle class.

President Bush vetoed the bill. He explained his decision to do so this way: “The policies of the government ought to be to help poor children and to focus on poor children, and the policies of the government ought to be to help people find private insurance, not federal coverage.” According to the Urban Institute there are 689,000 children who are eligible for SCHIP (under the current regulations) but do not currently receive it. Expanding the program to cover middle-class kids does nothing to get these truly poor children covered.

He goes on from there, but you get the idea. I’m not sure it was all that wise of Catholics United to turn this into a pro-life argument. Seems to me, in that particular war, you need to pick your battles.

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