A Vast Rightwing Conspiracy? | Bush Clips SCHIP

Plame’s Day in Court—Lefty bloggers went through the roof, July 19, when D.C. Federal District Judge John D. Bates threw out the lawsuit Valerie Plame had filed against Vice President Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, et al. for revealing Plame’s identity as a CIA agent. Regarding Bates, the critics are spot on. He was a deputy assistant counsel on Whitewater Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s team, which provided the report that led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Like fellow Starr-team alumnus Brett Kavanaugh, Bates was appointed to the federal bench by George W. Bush.

Bates’s first big case was Walker v. Cheney, in which U.S. Comptroller General David Walker and the General Accounting Office (GAO) filed suit against the vice president in 2002, on behalf of Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Dingell (D-MI). The lawmakers wanted the names of lobbyists who’d met with Cheney’s energy task force in the spring of 2001. Never before had the GAO—a federal watchdog charged with auditing the performance of government agencies—gone to court to demand information from the executive branch. Cheney’s stonewalling forced Walker’s hand, and Bates’s ruling that the GAO had no standing to bring the case, and that a member of Congress couldn’t demand documents unless a committee chair issued a subpoena, crippled both the Congress and GAO.

Bates’s ruling established such a dangerous precedent that Walker refused to appeal it, fearing an adverse ruling from a higher court. Traditional conservatives, such as former Reagan administration lawyer Bruce Fein also cried foul, as did Democratic members of Congress. As Starr’s deputy, Bates had pressed for discovery powers that extended into the private files of then-First Lady Hillary Clinton. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) jumped on the contradiction. “When that guy was working for Ken Starr, he wanted to go open the dresser drawers of the White House,” Leahy said. “I guess it’s a lot different when it’s a Republican vice president.”

Bates’s recent decision to throw out Plame’s lawsuit was a victory for defenders of the unitary executive, who hold that the president exercises broad, expansive powers. In March 2006, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts appointed Bates to a seat on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that had been vacated by Judge James Robertson. Judge Robertson resigned after the New York Times broke the story that Bush had given a green light for the National Security Agency to wiretap American citizens’ communications without first getting the FISA court warrants required by law. FISA deliberations are closed to the public, but Bates doesn’t seem to have a judicial temperament that would worry the White House or the Justice Department.

Texas Hold ‘Em—News of President Bush’s threat to veto funding for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) because the Senate has proposed adding $7 billion a year for the next five years reads like old news from Texas. (The White House is even more dismissive of the House’s $10 billion per year proposal.) SCHIP provides low-cost health insurance for children whose families aren’t poor enough to qualify for Medicaid but are unable to afford private coverage. The additional $7 billion per year would add about three million children to the program. President Bush, just as he did when he was governor of Texas, is fighting to keep enrollment as low as possible.

In Texas, by limiting enrollment to families at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, Bush would have allowed no more than 300,000 children in the program. Democrats in the legislature wanted the qualifying standard set at 200 percent, which would have enrolled 500,000 kids—at a time when Texas had the largest number of uninsured children in the nation. In Florida, Bush’s brother Governor Jeb Bush had set the qualifying standard at 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman had set the standard at 300 percent. Citing “philosophical reasons,” as he does now, Governor George Bush would not be moved.

Democratic legislators took Bush’s attempt to deny poor children access to low-cost insurance to the court of public opinion. Ron Pollack of Families USA, leading the current lobbying and advocacy effort fight in Washington, flew to Austin to help legislators make their case to constituents and editorial boards. Democrats prevailed, and Texas kids got their health insurance. Bush and his staff continued to complain that the program was an “entitlement magnet” that attracted poor families to programs such as Medicaid.