Govs confront Bush on kid care

The human impact in the U.S. of the trillion-dollar Iraq war and Bush tax cuts for the super-rich boiled to the surface at the annual National Governor’s Association (NGA) winter meeting, Feb. 24-27, as the top officials from all 50 states crossed swords with Bush over funding for children’s health care and deployment of National Guard units and equipment to Iraq.

At a White House meeting with the governors Feb. 26, Bush tried to focus on the Iraq war, arguing that the crisis is turning around, but the governors turned up the heat on administration proposals that would torpedo the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) which provides coverage for their states’ youngest and neediest residents. Bush is seeking to restrict eligibility and funding for CHIP.

Both Republican and Democratic governors challenged Bush on the issue. “Health care for children ought to be a priority, irrespective of anyone’s views on the war,” Georgia’s Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue told The New York Times. Even under the current funding, Georgia will run out of its federal money to pay for the children’s health insurance in three months.

Data released at the conference indicates that 13 other states will run out by September.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that states will run short by $700 million this year, and projects a total shortfall of $13.4 billion from 2008 to 2012.

The federal government currently spends a total of $5 billion for the entire year for all 50 states to provide health insurance for children in very low-income families. Meanwhile, the Bush administration is spending $8 billion per month on the Iraq war — $96 billion for the year, according to Pentagon spokespeople.

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, complained that, in the meeting with Bush and Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, when the governors raised concerns about having to remove children from the program, or eligible children not being able to participate because of funding shortfalls, they were told this was just a matter of poor management at the state level. But Strickland said flatly, “If we don’t get the money we need, children will go without coverage.”

Pennsylvania’s Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell was blunt. “Should we be giving tax cuts to billionaires and millionaires or should we be giving health care to children?” he asked. “Should we make health care for children, at the very least, an entitlement?” Rendell charged that the double whammy of the Iraq war and tax cuts for the super rich knocks out efforts to improve the quality of life in the U.S.

Even Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had a private meeting with the president, did not leave with a check to help his state’s $12 billion health insurance program.

In meetings with administration officials, governors also pressed their worries about shipping their states’ National Guard troops to Iraq and how to pay for replacing worn-out equipment that the states rely on to handle domestic emergencies like floods and hurricanes. “There’s a lot of concern about the resources already employed, manpower and equipment,” said National Governors Association chair Janet Napolitano, the Democratic governor of Arizona. “How much equipment have we sent abroad, how much has returned, how much is usable?”

Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, the head of the National Guard Bureau, admitted that the Pentagon has “not delivered” on replacing essential equipment.

Virginia’s Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine said many of his state’s 5,500 Guard troops are on their second tour of duty since the 9/11 attacks. “Obviously, that’s a problem.”

Governors have been battling the administration over a change in federal law last year, after Hurricane Katrina, that expanded presidential powers to federalize state National Guard units without consent from state officials. Since the founding of the U.S., governors have had control over their state militias (which became the National Guard in 1903) to meet local emergencies like Katrina. Now the governors have turned their attention to the new Congress to restore control to the states.

“I have very strong concerns about how the federal government might abuse that authority,” said Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat. Montana’s Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer expressed similar worry about the potential for abuse of the president’s expanded powers.

A largely under-reported result of last fall’s elections is that, for the first time in 12 years, Democrats control the governorships in the majority of states, with 28 Democratic governors and 22 Republicans. Louisiana Democrat Kathleen Blanco is the only governor who will face the voters this year.

dwinebr696 @ aol.com