Sen. Orrin Hatch said he isn't working with Ted Kennedy to pass health care insurance for children because he likes the liberal Massachusetts senator's politics, but because he thinks it's the right thing to do.
Calling Kennedy the "single most effective legislator in Congress," Hatch, R-Utah, said Kennedy's support is vital to build the bipartisan coalition of support needed to pass the Child Health Insurance Bill."It's a very conservative bill," he said. "When was the last time you heard Ted Kennedy sponsoring a block grant for the states with the states setting their own standards?"
In a Monday discussion with the Deseret News editorial board, Hatch alleged recent Salt Lake area radio advertisements attacking his health insurance plan for children were funded by a group that accepts money from tobacco interests.
The Kennedy-Hatch legislation would increase the tax on packs of cigarettes by 43 cents and earmark that money for health insurance and deficit reduction.
Of the $30 billion that would be raised by the tax over the next five years, $20 billion would go to Hatch's health insurance program and $10 billion to deficit reduction.
Hatch, widely recognized as a conservative leader in the Senate, has been vilified by some in the right wing of his party for his support of the health insurance bill and his alliance with Kennedy, an anathema to many staunch conservatives.
Critics argue Hatch's plan will create a new entitlement with a bloated bureaucracy reminiscent of welfare and a plethora of new federal mandates that states will be required to follow. Others dislike the tax increase associated with the plan, and some have alleged the legislation will promote abortions.
Hatch said the plan would be a block grant and purely voluntary. States wouldn't have to participate, and they would set their own eligibility criteria. No new bureaucracy would be created because the federal workers are already in place to collect and distribute the tax, he said.
Federal taxes on cigarettes as a percentage of per-pack cost are lower now than they were in 1955. As for abortion, the Kennedy-Hatch bill would not "provide, mandate, cover or promote" them, he said.
"It shows the lengths some people will go to distort this issue," said Hatch, a longtime opponent of abortion rights.
The Kennedy-Hatch bill is needed because 10 million children don't have health insurance in America. Seven million of those without insurance don't qualify for Medicaid, and 88 percent of those without Medicaid benefits are from families in which at least one family member works.
"I have always believed in helping those who can't help themselves," Hatch said. "I do not believe in helping those who can help themselves but won't."