For ‘the children’

Perhaps one of the most cynical political ploys of recent times is to couch an expansion of government as necessary to “protect the children.”

Yet it’s a tried-and-true tactic — particularly for tax-raising Democrats. What elected official, after all, is willing to stand up to such poppycock — and risk the resulting opposition campaign mailer, portraying him as an enemy of the weak and infirm?

To his credit, Sen. John Ensign is apparently one of the exceptions. On Thursday, Sen. Ensign was one of four Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee to courageously vote against raising tobacco taxes to expand a middle-class welfare program.

Created in 1997, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) was sold as an effort to ensure that poor kids had heath insurance. In Nevada, it’s known as Nevada Check-Up.

But right from the get-go, the eligibility standards were designed to create as big a dependent constituency as possible — thus making it more difficult to eliminate or reform the program. It’s a game at which Democrats excel.

Children in poor families are already covered by Medicaid, of course. So eligibility was set at 200 percent of the poverty line — meaning an only child qualified for taxayer-subsidized health care if his parents earned as much as $34,340, regardless of whether they had private insurance.

Since then, several states — thanks to waivers inexplicably granted by the Bush administration — have expanded the program to provide coverage to children from families with higher incomes, and even to adults.

The new measure, passed 17-4 by the Senate committee, would expand the program by $35 billion, bringing spending up to $60 billion over the next five years. To pay for this, federal taxes on tobacco would jump by 61 cents per pack of cigarettes, up to a whopping $1 a pack.

While the Senate version of the measure if far preferable to the House version — it would at least eventually drop some adults who don’t have children from the program, for instance — this still amounts to not only a major tax hike, but another baby step toward the Democratic dream of a government takeover of our health care system.

This isn’t about “the children,” at all. If it were, the focus would be on making sure that eligibility for SCHIP was confined to uninsured kids whose parents were barely scraping by yet weren’t eligible for other federal assistance. Instead, the program continues to expand as, “The Democrats are playing a game of reverse Robin Hood with this legislation,” said Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss.

Good for him — and for Sen. Ensign.

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