Republicans ought not delude themselves that the SCHIP bill introduced by McConnell will inoculate them against future Democratic attacks. Since Democrats control the calendar in both chambers, they likely will be able to outmaneuver Republican legislators.
What happens, for example, if Democrats, unable to override a Bush veto, propose extending the current SCHIP until the middle of next year, when they could come back with the exact same bill that Republicans are blocking now? How would Republicans like having this same fight next year, only a few months before the 2008 elections?
If you are looking for evidence of the political potency of this issue, all you need to do is look at the one statewide race now in progress that involves a sitting Republican Member of Congress.
Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal is running for governor in Louisiana, and the vote on SCHIP could take place in the House of Representatives just a couple of days before voters in the Pelican State go to the polls.
The Congressman, who opposed the House SCHIP bill but supported the conference committee compromise, which was much closer to the Senate’s version, has indicated that he is planning to vote to override the president’s veto.
Some grass-roots conservatives are cheering on Republicans to “support the president,” as if SCHIP is somehow a test of GOP loyalty. Yet many of those same conservatives broke with the president on immigration, Medicare Part D and even No Child Left Behind, when they thought that Bush was wrong.
The apparent divisions within Republican ranks make it difficult for party leaders to argue, as they are doing, that they are standing on principle in opposing an expanded children’s health care program. As one Capitol Hill Democrat told me, “You make a principled stand when you are united — not when you are divided.”
Bang! Bang! It’s almost time to count the casualties.