One of the state's most powerful labor unions ratcheted up its pressure on Rep. Greg Walden, the only member of Oregon's congressional delegation to oppose an expansion of a popular child-health program with an increased tobacco tax.
Service Employees International Union Local 503, already running television ads condemning the local Republican for opposing a $35 billion expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, is holding a candlelight vigil on Tuesday at his district office, 843 E. Main St. in Medford, at 6:30 p.m.
Co-organized by community activist group Oregon Action, the vigil comes in advance of Thursday's planned vote in the U.S. House of Representatives to override the president's veto of the legislation that would have expanded the program known as SCHIP.
"Congressman Walden is the only Oregon legislator to vote against children in favor of big tobacco interests," said Kurt Kessler of Ashland, statewide director of CAPE, the union's political action committee. "We're going to send a message to Walden that his constituents are watching."
Sally Cumberworth, a home health care worker in Cave Junction, is the director of the union's District 4, which includes Jackson and Josephine counties. She said Tuesday's vigil is aimed at getting Walden's attention and to urge him to side with Democrats to override the president's Oct. — veto.
"In my personal life, there have been times when both me and my husband were covered through our jobs, but our children weren't," Cumberworth said. "When you are just barely making it, to try and get insurance, it hurts and we're trying to get that across to our local representative."
Although Walden supports a reauthorization of the program that already covers about 2,500 Jackson County children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance coverage, he has said the vetoed bill strayed from the program's original intent of helping the poor, was "financially unsustainable" and would extend coverage to undocumented immigrants.
The failed proposal would have raised the federal excise tax on cigarettes by 61 cents, to $1 a pack, providing the revenue to enroll an additional 36,000 Oregon children in the program, and 4 million more children nationwide.
Although the measure backed by Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., cleared the Senate by a veto-proof majority, support for the bill was not as widespread in the House, so SEIU is targeting nine GOP lawmakers nationally to help get the 24 or-so House votes to muster the two-thirds majority needed for a veto override.
Bush, who had proposed a $5 billion expansion of the program that covers families who earn up to three times the federal poverty level, said the dramatic expansion that Congress sent him inched the nation toward socialized medicine and created a middle-class entitlement program.
"If putting poor children first takes a little more than the 20 percent increase I have proposed in my budget for SCHIP, I am willing to work with leaders in Congress to find the additional money," Bush said on Oct. 6 in his weekly radio address, signaling his willingness to compromise with lawmakers.
Under the program, the federal government supplies two dollars for every dollar the state pays for health insurance for low- and moderate-income children. During Fiscal Year 2007, Oregon received $56.7 million, administered through the Oregon Health Plan.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, a Republican, predicted Sunday that Democrats will fall short of the votes needed to override the president's veto.
"We will have the votes to sustain the president's veto," Boehner said on the "Fox News Sunday" program. "And I think the differences are resolvable, but we're standing on our principle that poor kids ought to come first."
The Ohio congressman added that he doesn't think at issue is the $35 billion that Democrats want to add to the program verses the $5 billion that most Republicans are willing to support.
"Most people don't want government-run health insurance," he said. "Republicans are working on a plan that will provide access to all Americans to high-quality health insurance &
make sure that we increase the quality of health insurance that we have in America."
covers government for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at email@example.com. To post a comment on this story, go to .
Service union targets Walden in ad campaign