President Bush yesterday vetoed a bill passed by Congress which would have expanded the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by $35 billion, providing coverage to more children. The measure was funded by a 61 cent per pack increase in the federal cigarette excise tax. There appear to be enough votes in the Senate to override this veto; however, there are currently not enough votes in the House. It appears that negotiations will take place to try to secure at least an extension of the current program, if not a small expansion. But a large cigarette tax increase does not seem likely.
The Rest of the Story
As much as I might hate to say it, I agree with the president on this veto. It makes absolutely no sense to tie the financial stability of the children's health insurance program to continued cigarette consumption by smokers. That is no way to fund health insurance for children whose families cannot otherwise afford insurance.
As cigarette consumption falls, it will create a budget shortfall. That shortfall will need to be filled by finding new smokers. This creates a government incentive against any measures which will sharply reduce cigarette consumption. Thus, two public health goals -- providing health access and reducing smoking -- are placed directly against each other.
It baffles me why public health organizations, such as the American Public Health Association, are supporting this approach to funding something as essential as health insurance coverage for the nation's children.
At any rate, President Bush has made the 4th veto of his presidency a very sensible one.