This week the House is will vote on reauthorizing the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and the Senate Finance Committee will take up much-needed companion legislation to help more Latino and immigrant children access health care. Besides being the right thing to do, and even the fiscally responsible thing to do, this legislation will be a watershed moment for the GOP.
The Immigrant Children's Health Improvement Act (ICHIA) bill would eliminate the five year wait legal immigrant children must currently endure before qualifying for health coverage. Republicans now face a unique opportunity to challenge the perception that they are anti-immigrant by passing it.
Just yesterday, President Bush admitted that it "may be" fair to say that Republicans "don't like immigrants-" or at least that they're seen as such. From his final press conference in office yesterday:
BUSH: Take, for example, the immigration debate. That's obviously a highly contentious issue. And the problem with the initial outcome of the debate was some people said, "well, Republicans don't like immigrants." Now, that may be fair or unfair, but that's the image that came out. And if, you know, the image is "we don't like immigrants," then there's probably someone else out there saying, "well, if they don't like immigrants, they probably don't like me as well."
Can we expect less rabble-rousing on immigration from Lou Dobbs and his posse? Unlikely, but by allowing legal immigrant children the access to the critical health care that they deserve, the GOP will be taking a step in the right direction. Yesterday's New York Times quotes Jennifer Ng'andu, a health policy specialist at NCLR:
"Children should not be forced to wait five years for health care," said Jennifer M. Ng'andu, a health policy specialist at the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic rights group. "Five years is a lifetime to a child."
Will the GOP rise to meet the challenge head on, or will they continue to appease the most extreme elements among their ranks by resorting to demonizing immigrant children and pregnant women?
If they do the latter, they risk becoming a regional party for decades to come.
Our country has demanded change and the results of the 2008 election were clear. The American public is looking for solutions to tough problems, not more of the same. We hope that the GOP has taken notice of this new reality and will rise above hateful rhetoric to do what is right for our country. The political survival of their Party, not to mention the health of our nation's children, depends on it.