A CYNICAL, POLITICAL ACT
Washington Post: The Bush administration has seized on the widely supported goal of extending prenatal care to score cheap political points with anti-abortion forces. This week, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson proposed a rule change under the State Children's Health Insurance Program that would make a developing fetus eligible for government-funded health insurance for low-income children. As a scheme to provide health care to more women during pregnancy, the HHS proposal is unnecessary. The SCHIP program already allows states to get waivers to use federal subsidies to care for pregnant women. As a scheme to undermine abortion rights by defining childhood as beginning before birth, however, Thompson's proposal is right on the mark -- and a sop to the anti-choice crowd.
Ideological motivation: The administration is going out of its way to pick a fight with pro-choice advocates, even though the maneuver sacrifices the real interest of expectant mothers in receiving the care they need and deserve. SCHIP is a federal program that has been uncomplicated by politics. The HHS secretary, if his interest had been solely related to providing prenatal care, could just as easily have broadened rule coverage to explicitly include expectant mothers. Instead, he chose the forum of a speech to the 29th annual Conservative Political Action Conference to announce the administration's ideologically motivated decision.
The move to insure embryos does not require congressional approval, but Capitol Hill should nonetheless get into the act. A straightforward federal health program enacted in 1997 has been gratuitously politicized by the Bush administration and opened up to partisan rancor. Congress should undo the damage by enacting legislation extending SCHIP to prenatal care. The corrective legislation should be passed before the proposed HHS regulation becomes final.
KEEP A LINE OPEN TO ARAFAT
Los Angeles Times: The Bush administration, having twice sent an envoy to the Middle East and having warned Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat countless times to arrest terrorists and stop the violence, now has moved more deeply into the camp of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. A step back is in order.
The big winners since the start of the second uprising against Israel 16 months ago have not been Israel or the Palestinian Authority or the United States. They have been the two main Palestinian terrorist groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both singled out for condemnation by President Bush in his State of the Union speech.
Israel's "targeted assassination" of individual terrorists has not increased the nation's security, and its settlements in territory that Palestinians believe Israel promised to return have inflamed passions. Palestinian terror groups have made bitter enemies of many Israelis who once supported the peace process.
Shambles: Then there's the economic toll. Shopkeepers on Jerusalem's Jaffa Road have lost business because customers don't want to risk being in an area where a Palestinian gunman raked a line of people waiting for a bus and days later a Palestinian woman killed herself and an Israeli bystander and wounded scores of people when a bomb she was carrying exploded. In the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli checkpoints keep people from leaving to earn a living. The Palestinian economy is a shambles.
The United States' basic support of Israel, of course, must remain unshakable. Israel, founded after the Holocaust, is a democracy in a region where many of its neighbors refuse to recognize its right to exist. It has been forced to fight for its survival in four wars.
Last month Israeli commandos seized a boat carrying 50 tons of rockets, mortars and explosives to the Palestinian Authority. Bush and his advisors then discussed shutting the authority's Washington office and putting Arafat's personal security force on the State Department's list of terrorist groups. It's hard to see how that would help matters.
The administration has to keep the channels of communication open with the Palestinians. Yes, the Palestinian Authority is corrupt and despised even by many of those it represents. But it's the only organization to talk to now.
The main burden is on Arafat to stop the violence. If he can't or won't, Israel and the United States will have to look elsewhere for a partner in dialogue. But there is no guarantee things will improve when Arafat dies or is removed.
Still, Bush has moved too deeply into the camp of Ariel Sharon. A step back is in order.