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Care for kids, don’t use them as pawns

By John Kline

Minnesotans understand that we have a responsibility to care for and support our children in need. As a father of two and a grandfather of four, I appreciate the importance of ensuring health care is available to children.

That is why I have been a supporter of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) since I was first elected to Congress in 2002. However, I do not support the proposed expansion of SCHIP, because it fails to put poor kids first and relies on reckless funding schemes.

This bill, which the president vetoed, is a huge expansion of a government program extending coverage to illegal immigrants and those already insured.

SCHIP was created 10 years ago by a Republican Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton to provide health care benefits for low-income children not covered by Medicaid. Ensuring all children have access to the care they need remains a priority for me, which is why I co-sponsored legislation that would provide an 18-month extension of the current SCHIP plan. This measure provides a stop-gap, not a solution. 

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Most, if not all, Republicans and Democrats in Washington understand the value of SCHIP. Unfortunately, some of my colleagues in Congress are using uninsured children as a political bargaining chip. We must end this dangerous game and come together in a bipartisan manner to expand the program with solid funding to ensure the children of the working poor do not fall through the cracks.

Instead, we have an SCHIP bill that is fatally flawed by funding schemes and budget gimmicks that should trouble anyone. The bill relies on a budgetary gimmick that drops SCHIP funding by nearly 80 percent in its sixth year — resulting in a "funding cliff" that will ultimately force a choice between increasing taxes dramatically or stripping health insurance from millions of children.

Because it depends on a huge cigarette tax increase, it requires 22 million Americans to start smoking a pack per day. As the number of smokers continues to decline, the new children’s insurance bill bases its future on the hope that kids start smoking.

The House of Representatives voted to sustain the veto. I voted to sustain it, so we can move forward with bipartisan legislation that meets our kids’ health needs and stops using them as political chess pieces. That is a high-stakes game that I refuse to play.

John Kline, of Lakeville, represents Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District.  In his third term in Congress, he is a member of the Education and Labor Committee, the Armed Services Committee, and the Ethics Committee.

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