Right-Wing Coalition United against SCHIP (Mostly)

While the conservative movement coalition of the economic right and social right has shown some small cracks in the last year, one bill in Congress has them singing the same tune: a proposal to expand the coverage of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The Religious Right is complaining that the bill defines “children” beginning with birth, rather than conception. According to Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, making “unborn children” ineligible to sign up for insurance “is a calculated move to open the door to federal taxpayer-funded abortions.” (FRC’s David Christiansen clarified: “The federal dollars wouldn’t necessarily be used to do the abortion, but it’s freeing up states to perform these other services, including abortion, with their own state money.”)

Meanwhile, National Right to Life Committee asserted that the bill would lead to Medicare “rationing” and thus “involuntary euthanasia.” “They have attacked the sanctity of life both at the beginning and the latter stages of life,” cried Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, speaking of “the Democratic leadership” in Congress.

In addition, the Religious Right warns that the bill renews funding for abstinence education, but doesn’t restrict it to abstinence-only programs. “They’re simply giving states more money to fund Planned Parenthood and the programs that teach our children to have sex,” complained Linda Klepacki of Focus on the Family. “Comprehensive sex education will once again have a monopoly on your school systems.”

Meanwhile, economic-right activists are warning that expanding SCHIP is “a step towards socialism.” In this, they find welcome support from Perkins, who – despite his warnings about abortion – wrote that the “[m]ost important” aspect of the bill is that “its expansion represents a direct attack on private insurance, pushing Americans closer to what many Democratic leaders have long advocated–government-run, taxpayer-funded, universal health care, managed with the same efficiency and customer care as your local DMV.”

Both the Heritage Foundation and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform have trashed the bill. But as Robert Novak reports, they are having some trouble on the details, arguing with each other over right-wing amendments offered by Republicans.

The 42 senators and 196 House members who have signed a no-tax-increase pledge received a stern warning Wednesday from Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform: If you vote for Amendment 2548 to the Democratic-sponsored expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), you will violate your solemn promise. However, Amendment 2548 is not the product of tax-and-spend liberals but of conservative lawmakers and policy experts.

Sen. Richard Burr, a first-term conservative Republican from North Carolina and principal sponsor of 2548, pulled it off the floor Thursday night as SCHIP expansion passed the Senate, 68 to 31. The conservative movement is split over Norquist’s warning, with two right-wing think tanks at each other’s throats. Sponsors of the Burr amendment are furious that they are being depicted as tax-increasers when they claim they are fighting a movement toward “socialized medicine” in America.

This disarray on the right is part of a broader conservative breakdown. SCHIP passage, with notable Republican support, means that the Democrats — 12 years after the failure of “Hillary care” — have figured out how to market a government-financed plan. The quarrel over the Burr amendment reflects not only a failed Republican reaction to big government but also a weakening of GOP resolve to hold down taxes.