Saving a sinking SCHIP: Bush, Bachmann targeted by religious groups on the left and right

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President Bush’s veto of an expanded State Children’s Health Insurance Program on Oct. 2 has ignited a debate over how to insure the nation’s most vulnerable citizens — children. The veto has caused a rift among some of Bush’s staunchest supporters: his Christian base.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is feeling the heat in Minnesota for her vote against an expanded program, with many groups targeting her to switch her vote when the House seeks a veto override this week. Some groups are even accusing the Congress member of abandoning her pro-life values in order to vote with the President.

The United Methodist Church, Bush’s home denomination, has come out strongly against his veto. Rev. R. Randy Day, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, sent a letter to every member of Congress and to the White House the same day Bush signed the veto. It read, “We firmly believe that all children in the U.S. deserve the opportunity for a healthy life and the people of The United Methodist Church strongly agree and have voiced their support for the SCHIP legislation. The substantial bipartisan support for SCHIP proves that this reauthorization is needed and worthy of your undivided support.” After the veto, Jim Winkler, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, said, “The President’s act of veto of this legislation is contrary to our denomination’s understanding of God’s abundant provision for all God’s children – including the provision of health care.”

Several Catholic groups have joined to criticize Bush’s veto. Rev. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, said “It is dismaying that President Bush has followed through on his threat to use one of his extremely rare vetoes on a bill that would have helped so many children without health insurance… This veto is the wrong decision at the wrong time.”

The Catholic Health Association (CHA) called into question Bush’s pro-life credentials as a result of the SCHIP veto. “The Catholic Health Association condemns this denial of health insurance for children,” said Sister Carol Keehan, president and chief executive officer, in a press release shortly after the veto. “Reauthorizing SCHIP represents a humane and pro-life opportunity: ensuring that millions of children-born and unborn-receive the health care they need and deserve. The President’s decision stands in the way of this opportunity.” The CHA has become known in recent months for its championing of nutrition and hydration in patients in a persistent vegetative state, issues that were supported by Republicans in the Terry Schiavo case. The CHA has also called on Congress to override Bush’s veto.

In Minnesota, Rep. Michele Bachmann is seeing her own pro-life credentials questioned as many groups target her to switch her vote for a veto override, including pro-life Catholics. A radio ad, paid for by the Service Employees International Union, criticizes Bachmann’s vote (MP3), and a television ad by Americans United, an educational group concerned with separation of church and state, characterized her vote as loyalty to Bush over the needs of uninsured children. Both urge her to vote for a veto override. A collaboration of groups including American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, SEIU, MoveOn.org and the Children’s Defense Fund are holding candlelight vigils outside Bachmann’s district offices.

Bachmann says she’s not afraid of a fight on SCHIP. On Oct. 3, Bachmann told Jason Lewis on KLTK,, “They’re planning a big demonstration at my office in St. Cloud… to beat up on me. They’ll bring all the local media out… so that I’ll cave and… switch my vote on SCHIP, which is not going to happen,” she said. “And let’s go ahead and go forward with it because if they wanna take this fight on I say ‘Bring it on.'”

Catholics United is also questioning Bachmann’s pro-life credentials. The group has taken out advertising spots on three Christian radio channels in her district conservative talk KNSI and contemporary Christian KKJM in St. Cloud, and Catholic talk WLOL in the Twin Cities. They say in part (MP3), “I’m concerned that Congresswoman Michele Bachmann says she’s pro-life but votes against health care for poor children. That’s not pro-life. That’s not pro-family. Tell Congresswoman Michele Bachmann to vote for health care for children.”

Chris Korzen, executive director of Catholics United, said in a press release last week, “Building a true culture of life requires public policies that promote the welfare of the most vulnerable. At the heart of the Christian faith is a deep and abiding concern for the need of others. Pro-life Christians who serve in Congress should honor this commitment by supporting health care for poor children.”

The House is expected to vote on a veto override of SCHIP by Oct. 18. It’s estimated that 12 more votes will be needed to win an override. Despite extraordinary pressure, that will not likely include Bachmann.