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updated 10/16/2007 4:46:15 PM ET 2007-10-16T20:46:15
ANALYSIS

This must be a tremendously frustrating time for Republican members of Congress, particularly those in potentially competitive re-election fights next fall.

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There is so much happening outside of their control: the direction of Iraq, the current softness of the economy, flat retail sales and the free fall in the housing sector.

They can't do anything about President Bush's near-record low approval ratings either.

But that is exactly why it is inexplicable that almost two dozen Republican House members sitting in potentially competitive districts -- ones with a Republican advantage in the Cook Political Report Partisan Voting Index (PVI) of 4 points or less -- voted against the State Children's Health Insurance Program legislation and appear likely to vote this week to sustain the president's veto of the SCHIP expansion.

Currently, most states offer SCHIP coverage to families of four with incomes up to $41,000 (two times the poverty level), but the expansion would extend eligibility to families making up to three times the poverty level at $62,000.

In high-cost states, the least expensive health maintenance organization option can run as high as $20,000 a year for a family of four and $30,000 for a point-of-service plan, clearly out of reach for most families in that income range.

Some argue that Republicans have turned their backs on one of their party's core values -- restraining government spending -- and have turned the balanced budget they received in 2000 into ugly deficits.

That's absolutely true.

But given some of the dubious spending approved during the period Republicans controlled the House and the Senate and the years they controlled both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, is an expansion of a health care program for children, the working poor and lower-middle-class families really the place to draw the line?

And, does a vote to sustain the veto reflect the political realities and public attitudes that exist now and may well exist until the November 2008 election?

Since Bush vetoed the bill Oct. 3, vulnerable GOP House members who voted against the measure have been subjected to a barrage of television and radio ads, as well as other activities, asking them to change their minds.

The House is scheduled to vote whether to override Bush's veto Thursday.

Some argue that Republicans must mollify their base and that coming across as controlling government spending is critical in the next election. But that suggests that the base was the problem in 2006.

The fact is that Republicans turned out in relatively normal numbers last year; Democrats voted in only slightly higher numbers. The tidal wave came from independent voters, who favored Democrats by a 16-point margin. For a member weighing the political implications of this vote, a good question to ask might be, "How would independents see my vote?"

Public opinion is clear on the matter.

A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll of 1,114 adults had 72 percent of those surveyed supporting increased funding for SCHIP, with 25 percent opposed.

The poll conducted Sept. 27 through Sept. 30, with a 3-point error margin, was released Oct. 1, two days before Bush vetoed the SCHIP measure.

It's true that there are only eight Republican House members sitting in districts that voted for Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in the 2004 presidential election, compared with 61 Democrats sitting in districts won by President Bush.

But, as of today, the playing field in 2008 looks to be far different than it was in 2004. Just last month there were five polls giving Democrats between a seven- and 13-point advantage on the generic congressional ballot test.

There are 14 Republicans sitting in districts with a GOP advantage in the PVI of 3 points or less, 10 more if you extend to 4 points, totaling 24 Republicans who voted against passage of the SCHIP bill.

The polls suggest that Republican members who haven't had a real challenge in years may be vulnerable and that the political environment is looking pretty treacherous.

Then there is the money, with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee likely to put more dollars into races than the National Republican Congressional Committee can. For years, the NRCC had the high ground, utilizing the doctrine of overwhelming force on a district-by-district level. This time, the shoe might well be on the other foot.

The irony is that less than a week before the scheduled House vote, the IRS released data on income for 2005 showing the inequality gap widening.

While the one percent of wealthiest Americans earned 21.3 percent of all income, a postwar record, the bottom 50 percent of Americans earned 12.8 percent of the income, down from 13.4 percent in 2004.

Republicans seem to be hoping that they will get a mulligan on this bill, expecting Democrats to fail on the override attempt, and then come up with a compromise proposal that endangered Republicans can support.

The question is whether Democrats will be that magnanimous, or choose to take this week's outcome to the voters. This will be a very interesting vote.

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.

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