Bush Gets It Right VIII: Correspondence With Congress About SCHIP
Author: Norman Kjono
Article Published: 15/11/2007
In works for this series about the State children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) I have encouraged readers to write their elected representatives in Congress concerning that legislation. In keeping with that recommendation I have done so.
I have received responses from members of both the House and Senate. As many others who have written their elected representatives about this extremely important issue may have experienced, the replies received amount to a Social Marketing sales pitch for using a 61 cents per pack (156.4 percent) increase in the federal excise tax on cigarettes to finance a $35 billion expansion of children’s health insurance.
As I point out to Representative Inslee (D-WA) in my below response, not only are such replies unacceptable to about 46.5 million constituents who lawfully consume legal tobacco products but they also fly in the face of political common sense. Why do Democrats and some Republicans put current gains in SCHIP already negotiated and agreed to at severe risk to accommodate tobacco control’s unwarranted intrusion into reauthorization of the SCHIP program?
I present below Rep. Inslee’s correspondence to me of today and my response. The attachment referred to in my response is my commentary, Bush Gets It Right VII: The People Get It About SCHIP, posted to Forces.org on November 15, 2007.
Ultimately, the final decision about SCHIP rests with we the people. We express that decision in our correspondence with representatives and in the voting booth. The below correspondence with a member of Congress about that issue may provide insights for constituents of other elected representatives.
Be Well and Best Always,
Norman E. Kjono
From: Norm Kjono [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Thursday, November 15, 2007 12:19 PM
To: 'Congressman Jay Inslee'
Subject: RE: From Congressman Jay Inslee
Thank you for your below response to my communications concerning SCHIP (most recent E-Mail attached). I appreciate that you took the time to respond.
As you know, I have previously expressed my appreciation for your work regarding environmental issues and, more recently, FCC media ownership rules. I also have personal reasons to appreciate your efforts on behalf of your constituents because my son is now doing well as an upperclassman member of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2009, complements of your nomination in 2003. So my predisposition has been to support you in your many other worthwhile efforts on behalf of the people of the State of Washington in District 1. There are, however, issues that are so deeply important that they must become deal breakers in otherwise constructive and productive relationships with one’s elected representative. Special-interest tobacco control’s unwarranted intrusion into the arena of reauthorizing the important State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) is such a deal breaker issue.
I would also like to thank you for your efforts to remove federal funds penalties that the State of Washington has previously experienced concerning SCHIP payments. Your point that all states should be able to employ equal federal funds to children’s health insurance needs is well taken. I am pleased to see that you and other members of Congress have made progress on that issue. In that respect you have already assured that Washington children are not short changed in the future, which is a good thing.
It is also quote evident that President Bush would sign reauthorization of SCHIP, with modest expansions of about $5 billion or more from current federal funding, in a heartbeat, providing the legislation did not include billions in new cigarette taxes and ultimately impose an extraordinary $35 billion expansion of the program on all taxpayers. Accordingly, I strongly object to your characterization of the current stall on reauthorizing SCHIP as “a partisan political maneuver.” In fact, the president is quite willing to renew SCHIP, protect and perhaps modestly expand children’s health insurance, and thereby provide for Washington children the gains in use of federal funds for children above the poverty level, too. In short, considerable positive progress and gains for SCHIP are already on the table and achieved. My take on the issue is that SCHIP is currently stalled – and is now entering its second life support extension tomorrow – due exclusively to a special-interest political maneuver to use increased tobacco taxes as the seed capital to vastly expand an otherwise meritorious program that all taxpayers will predictably be required to fund with higher broad-based taxes.
What I find to be perplexing about your response is why you and so many other elected representatives would risk the positive gains for children’ health already achieved in SCHIP negotiations, and that could be readily agreed to, to support a special-interest pharmaceutical agenda. Is advancing the interests of pharmaceuticals that fund tobacco control more important to you and other elected representatives who support the current version of SCHIP than children’s health? Democrats’ current lock-step support for the tobacco control agenda is even more perplexing considering that it has not produced the results it promised, with FDA regulation of tobacco currently before Congress ultimately imposes a SCHIP $35 billion tax increase on all taxpayers, panders to the most base intolerance-mongering emotions, and as clearly established in the attached previous communication is now experiencing rapidly diminishing public support in election results and surveys.
As you are aware, I have been directly involved in the SCHIP issue and opposing FDA regulation of tobacco for a considerable period. That opposition is based on more than a decade of first-hand experience with tobacco control that includes extensive research, testifying before state and local legislative bodies, and presenting reports and evidence to state agencies. The broad-based and rapid diminution of public support for that agenda, as documented in the attached “Bush Gets It Right: The People Get It About SCHIP,” is at once gratifying and a strong testament to the fact that when manipulative special-interest agendas rise to public view the people do get it, and strongly reject them. In light of those facts, it is also perplexing to me why Democrats would include as an apparent policy plank for presidential candidates advocating an agenda that is now behind – and on the negative side of – broad-based public opinion. The recent results in Oregon to reject cigarette tax Measure 50 should be a clear warning shot over the bow of those who presume to believe they are qualified to steer our ship of state as President.
It has also been my privilege to serve as a compensated consultant to hospitality trade groups that experience adverse economic impact of smoking bans. As a result of serving as a columnist for Forces.org for now ten years, I regularly receive reader’s comments about tobacco control. Suffice it to say that I have extensive personal, first hand experience with the adverse consequences imposed by tobacco control. That experience has been acquired through years of work and communications with a broad and diverse group of individuals and trade groups. The divisive, intolerance-based strategy of tobacco control – to seek special-interest economic reward based on effectively disenfranchising more than 20 percent of the voting public and imposing unwarranted costs on selected hospitality trade small business owners – is the antithesis of positive, inclusive American values. Considering the hurtful, adverse consequences of that agenda on small business owners, all taxpayers, and consumers it is apparent that those who are merely “invisible” to government enjoy a far superior position to that of citizens who current Democrat candidates for President have declared to be their personal “Target Group” of choice.
Given a choice between invisibility and being in presidential candidate’s “Target Group” cross hairs, rest assured that about 46.5 million constituents who lawfully consume legal tobacco products will readily choose any candidate to whom they are merely invisible. Yes, it does take a village to create a community. But by definition, and contrary to many Democrats apparent current views, a village has residents that all belong and are equally considered.
Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill – one of our late great Democrat statesmen – once said, “All politics is local.” Rep. Inslee, politics does not get more local than consumers’ wallets and hospitality trade small business owners’ tills. 46.5 million tobacco consumers who face about $10 billion in new federal cigarette taxes through the current SCHIP bill, as well as tens of thousands of bar and tavern owners nationwide who experience significant loss of business revenue due to smoking bans, now feel the intensely local bite that tobacco control imposes. As illustrated by the election voting patterns in California and Missouri last year, and confirmed by the recent rejection of higher cigarette taxes on Oregon a few weeks ago, nonsmokers also increasingly understand that the bite will also be put on their wallets through stealth taxes on them to continue programs initially financed by cigarette taxes. It should not escape your attention that election results for now three failed cigarette tax ballot measures to finance health care show more nonsmokers than smokers voted against increased cigarette taxes last year in California and Missouri and this year in Oregon. These facts lead responsible voters to seriously question the soundness of judgment displayed by any presidential candidate who would purport to lead a political party into the White House by first disenfranchising, and therefore alienating, 46.5 million “Target” consumer voters, then following-up that unsound decision by supporting special-interest mandate policy that will predictably cost many small business owners their livelihoods or business income.
I again thank you for the many positive efforts you have undertaken as the elected representative for constituents in Washington’s 1st Congressional District. There is, however, a point where your support for a single issue overrides an otherwise positive predisposition to support your continuation as our elected representative. Your visible support for tobacco control and your service as campaign Co-Chair in Washington for one of that hurtful agenda’s most aggressive long-term supporters, Senator Clinton, is such an issue.
Please consider that Democrats are unnecessarily putting current gains in the children’s health insurance program already achieved directly at risk by persisting with unwarranted demands that a special-interest mercantile cigarette tax agenda be accommodated as a mandatory condition of passing SCHIP legislation. My sincere recommendation is that you and other Democrats strongly consider the now indisputable evidence that a clear majority of the voting public gets it about tobacco control, as evidenced by recent survey polling and election results.
The obvious responsible next legislative step for Democrats is to capture for their constituents and their children the gains already achieved for children’s health insurance by abandoning demands that we the people further accommodate tobacco control’s discriminatory cigarette tax agenda. Your decision, and that of many other Democrat candidates, on that issue will determine election decisions made by millions of current “Target Group” voters nationwide in the forthcoming primaries and November 2008 general election.
Norman E. Kjono
From: Congressman Jay Inslee [mailto:Jay.Inslee@mail.house.gov]
Sent: Thursday, November 15, 2007 8:47 AM
Subject: From Congressman Jay Inslee
November 15, 2007
Mr. Norman E. Kjono
16149 Redmond Way #B221
Redmond, WA 98052-3834
Dear Mr. Kjono:
Thank you for contacting me regarding H.R. 976, legislation to reauthorize the State Children's Healthcare Insurance Program (SCHIP). I appreciate hearing from you and I look forward to this opportunity to respond.
You may be aware, that despite the best efforts of the majority of Congress, President Bush vetoed the SCHIP reauthorization and the House was unable to achieve the two-thirds majority of votes to override his careless decision. His rejection of this vital piece of healthcare funding flies in the face of broad, bipartisan support in Congress and endorsements from the American Medical Association, National Association of Children’s Hospitals, American Nurses Association, and U.S. Conference of Mayors, among other organizations. His veto also came after the September 30, 2007 deadline by which SCHIP authorization expires. As a temporary fix and as an effort to ensure that millions of American children are not left without healthcare coverage, the House included a six week extension of SCHIP funding into a recently passed continuing resolution (H.J.Res. 52). This resolution will continue funding of the important program at current levels for several weeks to allow for negotiations on another SCHIP reauthorization package. Please be assured that I will continue to fight for full reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program.
Despite this setback, I would like to inform you of the work that I and other members of the Washington State delegation did to ensure that Washington State Children received full funding under SCHIP. You will be pleased to know that, after negotiating the differences between the House passed Children's Healthcare and Medicare Protection Act (CHAMP Act), H.R. 3162, and the Senate passed Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2007 (S. 1893), Congress approved a bill that that included 35 billion dollars in new funding for the 6.6 million children currently eligible for coverage under SCHIP. While the bill would not expand SCHIP eligibility, it would expand services provided to children to include dental and mental healthcare. It also extends coverage to 3.8 million children who are currently uninsured, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Although some Medicare funding provisions were originally included in the House passed version of the bill, the final did not include any changes to the Medicare funding structure and kept in place the current Medicare Advantage payment system. I was extremely happy to have been able to secure a key provision in the final bill that would allow Washington State and 10 other states to use 100 percent of federal funds under SCHIP to cover kids just above the poverty level; until now, they were limited to 20 percent of those funds.
As you may know, Washington State has always been a leader in expanding healthcare coverage to children just above the poverty line; since the SCHIP program was established in 1997, Washington State, specifically, has been penalized for its foresight and leadership in expanding children's healthcare. The original SCHIP law penalized “early expansion” states for being ahead of the game and expanding coverage under SCHIP to those above 150 percent of the poverty line before the passage of this legislation in 1997. 11 states, including Washington, have been prevented from using the federal SCHIP funding allotment to cover these children that were already receiving coverage before 1997. This restriction has meant financial losses of hundreds of millions of dollars for Washington state over the past decade. Despite this fact, states that didn’t cover these children a decade ago had no such limitation on the use of federal SCHIP funds. Since its enactment, Washington state representatives have had to fight every two years to be allowed to spend even a fraction of the federal funds to cover children at this borderline poverty level. I am proud to have been integral in the negotiations over a permanent fix for this SCHIP shortfall in the CHAMP Act. It is my hope that children and families in Washington will soon be guaranteed the funding that they deserve.
I am saddened that the President would sacrifice the health of our nation's children over a partisan political maneuver. Over the coming weeks, I will continue to fight to expand children's health insurance and ensure that Americans receive the affordable, quality care they deserve. It is a top priority for me to guarantee that SCHIP funding for Washington State is available at the full 100 percent. I will not let Northwest children be shortchanged again.
Please continue to contact me about the issues that concern you, as I both need and welcome your thoughts and ideas. As a service to my constituents, I maintain a website which contains valuable resources and information on Congressional activities. Please feel free to visit the website at http://www.house.gov/inslee for information on recent issues and to learn more about the services my office provides. If you have not done so already, please visit http://www.house.gov/inslee/signup.htm to subscribe to my e-mail updates.
I encourage you to contact me via email, telephone, or fax, because security measures are causing House offices to experience delays in receiving postal mail. My email address is: Jay.Inslee@mail.house.gov. Please be sure to include your full name and address, including your zip code, in your message.
Very truly yours,
Member of Congress
I cannot guarantee the integrity of the text of this letter if it was not sent to you directly from my Congressional Email Account: Jay.Inslee@mail.house.gov. If you have any questions about the validity of this message, please email me at: Jay.Inslee@mail.house.gov or call my Washington, DC office at: 202-225-6311. If you would like to be removed from my email update list, please email me your name and address at: Jay.Inslee@mail.house.gov and type "REMOVE" in the subject line.