Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Republicans' Questionable Bet
Josh Marshall today points out just how remarkable it is that 151 Republicans in the House of Representatives--enough to sustain a presidential veto--voted against expansation of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), and prophesies both a legislative defeat and the wrath of a vengeful electorate:

[T]his is one reason there is an as-yet-unrevealed though in many ways profound antipathy for President Bush among many congressional Republicans. He's not running again. And he couldn't care less how much he damages his party over the next 18 months. Often political leaders face a choice -- stand for principle and possibly have a strong political issue at the next election or achieve some substantive accomplishment. Here the Dems appear to have every likelihood of achieving both. They'll probably get SCHIP and while also having the president inflict what may turn out to be a fatal political wound on a number of House Republicans. He'll bring them down in the noble cause of keeping lower and middle income kids from getting health care.

I think this is true as far as it goes, though there are a couple premises that might throw his analysis into question: of those 151, how many of them are truly in competitive seats? Are they really putting their heads in the lion's mouth by Supporting Our President in redder-than-dried-blood districts? While I've heard for years that a lot of congressional Republicans detest Bush and view him as a political anvil, I suspect this sentiment is a lot stronger among the 50 or so Republicans who didn't vote with the president than the 151 who did.

It's possible, maybe even likely, that most of those 151 Republicans view this as a vote on principle--that government shouldn't subsidize health care for (those they regard as) the non-poor. I happen to think this is a blinkered and idiotic viewpoint, profoundly ignorant, in the way that only those for whom health costs are simply not a day-to-day consideration, of just how much of a financial whammy this can put on families. But their mileage, obviously, differs.

The real issue here, I think, is the Republicans' calculation that not only would "defeating" expansion of S-CHIP not hurt the prospects of individual Republicans next year, but that it won't hurt the overall party brand either. They're gambling that the Democrats have neither the political killer instinct to run on this issue in the 2008 campaign (Voiceover: "Republican Congressman X voted for 12 tax cuts that gave the richest 0.1 percent of Americans an extra million dollars a year, but when it came time to support health care for poor children, he decided the cookie jar was empty," as the camera slowly pans across black-and-white pictures of kids in desolate settings), nor the power and savvy to frame the debate, which they think might again revolve around fear and terrorism. Whether or not they're proven right could tell us a good deal about the state of our public discourse.

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