July 28, 2007

John Dilulio finally speaks

Dilulio was one of those who thought the President was earnest when he talked about "compassionate conservatism." And he notes, Bush has done much to help in world Aids crisis and has actually increased some funding for poorer schools. But that is it. In most other areas, poverty is winning, and Bush seems resolute to be more helpful to the rich.
Bush's stand on insurance plan contradicts words of compassion | Inquirer | 07/26/2007:
On the other hand, poverty rates have risen in many cities. In 2005, Washington fiddled while New Orleans flooded, and the White House has vacillated in its support for the region's recovery and rebuilding process. Most urban religious nonprofit organizations that provide social services in low-income communities still get no public support whatsoever. Several recent administration positions on social policy contradict the compassion vision Bush articulated in 1999.

In May, Bush rejected a bipartisan House bill that increased funding for Head Start, a program that benefits millions of low-income preschoolers. His spokesmen claimed the bill was bad because it did not include a provision giving faith-based preschool programs an absolute right to discriminate on religious grounds in hiring.

That reason reverses a principle Bush proclaimed in his 1999 speech: "We will keep a commitment to pluralism, not discriminating for or against Methodists or Mormons or Muslims, or good people of no faith at all." As many studies show, most urban faith-based nonprofits that serve their own needy neighbors do not discriminate against beneficiaries, volunteers or staff on religious grounds. These inner-city churches and grassroots groups would love to expand Head Start in their communities.

Last week, Bush threatened to veto a bipartisan Senate plan that would add $35 billion over five years to the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The decade-old program insures children in families that are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid but are too poor to afford private insurance. The extra $7 billion a year offered by the Senate would cover a few million more children. New money for the purpose would come from raising the federal excise tax on cigarettes.

Several former Bush advisers have urged the White House to accept some such SCHIP plan. So have many governors in both parties and Republican leaders in the Senate. In 2003, Bush supported a Medicare bill that increased government spending on prescription drugs for elderly middle-income citizens by hundreds of billions of dollars. But he has pledged only $1 billion a year more for low-income children's health insurance. His spokesmen say doing any more for the "government-subsidized program" would encourage families to drop private insurance.

But the health-insurance market has already priced out working-poor families by the millions. With a growing population of low-income children, $1 billion a year more would be insufficient even to maintain current per-capita child coverage levels. Some speculate that SCHIP is now hostage to negotiations over the president's broader plan to expand health coverage via tax cuts and credits. But his plan has no chance in this Congress; besides, treating health insurance for needy children as a political bargaining chip would be wrong.

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