SCHIP Lessons Look At Race

By Guest Columnist Oct 19, 2007

Northwest Federation of Community Organizations (NWFCO) responds to President Bush’s SCHIP veto. Yesterday was a day of reckoning, sort of. The House didn’t override the President’s SCHIP veto, but an important lesson or two will come out of the fight. Early on, President Bush tipped his hand by vowing to veto, the kids be damned. He put the private health insurance industry first and was pretty transparent about it. That gave SCHIP supporters bait for proclaiming his hard-heartedness – not that we could ever match the viciousness of the right. We haven’t been quite as vocal about everything at stake in SCHIP, though. Like with Medicaid, if you’re a child of color, chances are much higher that SCHIP is your only shot at coverage. For many kids of color, at least. Others are shut out entirely. In the 1990’s, Congress saddled immigrant children with extra limits, including a five-year waiting period. That exclusion was going to be reversed in the House’s SCHIP bill. The strategy would be sleight-of-hand. If we made no fanfare, went the logic, maybe we could slip it through. The fight got nastier. The bill would have let states stop requiring birth certificates or other docs for citizens, which the right called a giveaway to “illegal immigrants.” This was a chip off their old baseless-attack block. But calling out the inaccuracies only reinforces them. And, in this case – when the defensive response meant joining the attack on undocumented children – it isn’t the principled approach, either. In the end, the Democrats let immigrant kids get shuffled out of the bill. Bush still rejected it. Then, in a radio address on the veto, the Dems brought out Graeme Frost, a seemingly unassailable SCHIP icon. He’s white, blonde, and 12. He comes from a struggling two-parent family, and survived a horrendous car crash. If only the heartless would nix SCHIP reauthorization, you’d have to be absolutely cold-blooded to think a boy like Graeme doesn’t deserve health care. His parents speak English – and no one has to comment on how stunningly articulate they are. Well, as the Dems learned, whiteness doesn’t provide a free pass. Just look at the right-wing attacks on the Frosts – the spurious statements about their cushy finances and the ensuing hate mail. Even hardened progressives were shocked, shocked. They’d gone after a child. Maybe abandoning racial equity isn’t a foolproof strategy, after all. And maybe our commitment to covering all our children will be measured not just by the President’s veto, but by the strength of the bill that reached his desk. Julie Chinitz, Northwest Federation of Community Organizations(NWFCO) Research Associate