Groups target Bachmann on children's health insurance

Rep. Michele Bachmann
Rep. Michele Bachmann is being targeted by TV ads asking her to reconsider her vote on children's health insurance.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

A coalition of groups, including unions and MoveOn.org, hopes the dramatic tone of the TV commercials running against Bachmann and 19 other GOP members of the House will pressure the lawmakers into reversing their positions on SCHIP.

"Bush vetoed health insurance for millions of America's children and Michele Bachmann voted with him," the ad says. "Bush and Bachmann would rather spend half a trillion to Iraq than spend a fraction of that here at home to keep our kids healthy."

This ad wraps up asking Bachmann whether she stands with him -- a picture of President Bush or them -- a picture of three kids.

The groups say they're spending $1.5 million on the ads which they say will be running right up to next Thursday's veto override vote.

Bachmann and fellow Republican John Kline are the only members of the Minnesota congressional delegation who voted against increasing SCHIP funding by $35 billion over five years.

President Bush favors adding $5 billion.

Opponents of the bill say it goes beyond covering health care for poor children and instead subsidizes medical expenses for relatively well-to-do members of the middle class. Jeremy Funk of Americans United for Change, one of the groups behind the ad, says they chose to target Bachmann but not Kline.

Funk says supporters of expanding SCHIP think they have a better chance of getting Bachmann to change her vote.

"With Bachmann as a freshman, we thought in the case of providing health care for kids she might be able to finally do the right thing and break ranks," he says. "So we're still holding out hope on her."

Neither Kline nor Bachmann made themselves available to Minnesota Public Radio News for interviews about SCHIP.

Bachmann issued a statement saying the bill was financially unsustainable.

Last week she called into conservative host Jason Lewis's program on KTLK Radio.

She made it clear she will not waver on SCHIP. She also encouraged Lewis to continue defending the president's veto.

"This is incredible," she said. "I'm just calling to say keep going. I'm standing here in my office right now in Washington. The TV is on. There's a commercial on TV that says support SCHIP. "

In addition to MoveOn.org and the unions, the group Catholics United says it will roll out an SCHIP radio ad targeting Bachmann and nine other representatives who oppose legalized abortion.

Catholics United Executive Director Chris Korzen says his Bachmann ad will begin airing next week. It will run on religious and other stations and it will feature the voice of a mother of three children linking SCHIP with opposition to abortion.

"We want Rep. Bachmann's constituents to call her and encourage her to vote for this legislation," he says. "It's important to her, I think, to reach out to these pro-life voters and pro-life constituents, and an essential part of that is supporting this legislation."

"We want Rep. Bachmann's constituents to call her and encourage her to vote for this legislation."

Korzen says you can't be opposed to abortion and not support taking care of children once they're born.

The National Conference of State Legislatures supports the bill President Bush vetoed.

Lobbyist Joy Johnson Wilson says before the bill passed, the Bush administration refused to support a funding increase large enough to pay for the number of children currently covered by SCHIP.

Wilson says many Americans likely have incorrect ideas about the program.

"The biggest misconception is that SCHIP is free government health care," she says. "It's usually a sliding-fee scale so that as your income goes up you pay a premium that's income-based and everybody pays co-pays and deductibles like people do on private health insurance. They're not in a government program. They get their coverage from health care providers that other people use."

On the other side, Wilson says, the tone of the TV ads misrepresents the opposition to the bill.

"Even people who voted against the S-CHIP bill, most of them say they support some sort of children's health insurance," she says.

University of Minnesota Political Science Professor Lawrence Jacobs says the push to override Bush's veto has as much to do with next year's elections as the issue itself. Jacobs says the vetoed children's health care funding bill gives Democrats an opening to frame the broader budget battle.

"The Democrats know that President Bush is going to veto all or most of the 12 appropriations bills heading for him," he says. "It's going to be very complicated and difficult for American voters to follow that debate. President Bush will almost certainly portray these vetos as an effort to hold back the tax-and-spend Democrats. The Democrats are trying to prepare the field of battle by portraying the president as really not the compassionate conservative as someone who's willing to cut needy children off of health insurance. So this is really a battle setting up 2008."

The lobbying push is limited to the U.S. House because the House would have to override the bill before the Senate could take it up again. The bill passed in the Senate with more than enough votes for an override.

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