"Leland, in his last issue, struts out with a chip on his shoulder, and dares Bush to knock it off." -- Weekly Oregonian, March 17, 1855, among original uses of "chip on his shoulder" in An American Glossary by Richard Hopwood Thornton.
President George W. Bush has a chip on his shoulder and is daring Congress to knock it off.
He is the bully in this fight. His victory would be the defeat of millions of American children who would be denied federally-funded health insurance, called S-chip, State Children's Health Insurance Program.
If Bush's veto of the $35 billion, 4-million child expansion of S-chip is sustained Thursday, he acquires an ignoble conquest.
He will have beaten unworthy opponents -- children, innocents whose parents cannot get or cannot afford health insurance.
Bush and a small number of Republicans oppose expansion of S-chip to more of the 8.7 million American children currently without health insurance. They say the government should not provide children with health insurance. Instead, the government, Bush says, should just help people find private insurance.
And, apparently, he believes the government should do no more than that no matter what it costs. In money. Political support. Lives.
It's Bush and a small number of Republicans in opposition because expansion of S-chip received bipartisan support when it passed by wide margins in the House (265-159) and the Senate (67-29). Eighteen Senate Republicans, including Orrin Hatch of Utah, abandoned Bush. Hatch said on the floor before the vote, "It's unfortunate that the president has chosen to be on what, to me, is clearly the wrong side of this issue."
In Hatch's branch, there are sufficient votes to override the veto. Speaker Nancy Pelosi needs 15 Republicans to switch votes to declare victory for children in her House.
These Republicans need to ask themselves if they want to stand beside a president with an approval rating so low that he attends only, as his staff calls them "let-Bush-be-Bush" events with hand-picked Bush fans for audience members -- preventing unpleasant confrontational queries, say about why he denied health insurance to poor sick children.
They need to ask themselves if they want to cuddle up to a president who vetoed expanding a popular health insurance program for poor children -- one for which a Washington Post-ABC New poll in September found 72 percent of those surveyed supported increased spending.
They need to ask themselves if they want to be forever known as unkind and uncaring, the lawmakers who while spending untold hundreds of billions of dollars to wage an unpopular war refused to approve a couple of extra billion over five years to provide health insurance for uncovered American children.
They need to think about those ads the American Cancer Society is running on television talking about the ill-effects of deficient or absent health insurance on recovery from cancer. Is it right that, in the richest country in the world, survival would depend not on the availability of treatment, but on whether the patient was born with a silver spoon in his mouth? Do we just let poor children die?
But, for that matter, do we just let impoverished adults die? Americans would not. We are not unkind, uncaring people. That is not us. We rally round. We rush to aid. We support one another, and we're willing to pay to do it. Poll results support that. A CBS News poll in September found that 76 percent of those surveyed believed it was a very serious problem that 47 million Americans have no health insurance. A CNN poll in May found 64 percent of those surveyed supported national health insurance for all Americans.
Okay, that's just a clear majority of good-hearted, regular Americans. How about policy-setting Republicans? Well, one influential Republican spouted off in the New York Times op-ed section this week. It was Paul O'Neill, Bush's secretary of the Treasury in 2001 and 2002 and former chairman and CEO of Alcoa. He wrote, "We are sufficiently wealthy and advanced as a society that we should consider financial access to needed medical care a birthright."
American is a country of incredible goodness and generosity. That is who we are. That is what defines us. That is why this veto of a program to provide health insurance for poor children cannot stand. And that is why we must work to insure all Americans.