CHIPping Away
Tue April 3, 2007 4:43 pm

Sylvester Turner’s compromise bill to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program has been under attack all day from the left and the right. Garnet Coleman led the attack from the left. It was a classic case of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Turner had forged a compromise with Republicans that would restore 102,000 children to the rolls. Coleman’s amendment would have taken the CHIP program back to it original dimensions before the 2003 cuts, providing insurance to twice as many kids as Turner’s bill. There wasn’t much Turner could say in response to the deluge of amendments except, “This is a major step in the right direction. We have to be careful that we don’t miss out on a bill that has been crafted with Republican and Democratic support.” Nashtat asked, “Wouldn’t the Coleman amendment send a stronger message to the Senate?” to which Turner replied, “If I try to satisfy the left, we get no bill. If we try to satisfy the right, we get no bill. The right thing to do is to reduce the number of uninsured right now.”

This is the oldest dilemma in politics: half a loaf versus none at all. It was clear to me that Coleman and the most partisan Democrats would have preferred none at all. They don’t want a Craddick D to get the credit, and they are willing to keep 102,000 kids from getting health insurance to keep that from happening. Without question Coleman is sincere in wanting to restore the cuts of 2003. At the same time, everyone knows that Coleman has been one of the Ds chief enforcers of seeking to defeat his fellow party members who have supported Tom Craddick. Coleman was respectful of Turner, but he has been around long enough to know (1) that the House was not about to restore all the cuts; (2) that Turner’s bill had the votes to pass; and (3) that the more the Democrats attacked Turner’s bill, the less weight Turner’s bill would carry as the voice of the House. At some point, Republicans are going to say, Why should we support this bill if the Democrats don’t support it? I think Turner’s bill will pass eventually, but it is clear that neither side has any enthusiasm for it.

This entire exercise may have been meaningless anyway. This was the number one priority for Turner and the Craddick Ds. Turner told Craddick that it wouldn’t be enough for this bill just to pass the House, that he wanted Craddick to go to bat for the bill in the Senate, which doesn’t like the restoration of twelve months of eligibility. Turner may have felt he had Craddick’s support–after all, Craddick wouldn’t be speaker without him and the other Craddick Ds–but Craddick insisted in a heated meeting with the Craddick Ds that he had promised only to facilitate passage through the House and make it possible for Turner to argue for his bill in the Senate. (Yeah, those House members have a lot of stroke in the Senate.) This scenario was related to me by another of the Craddick Ds, and if it is true, I would say that the Craddick Ds have been had.

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