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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

Explaining and Bragging: How We Should Talk About CHIP in X's & O's

SMU Political Science Professor Cal Jillson told the Dallas Morning News on October 5th, "If you're bragging, you're winning; if you're explaining, you're losing. And this is a vote that he has to explain." This was in reference to the junior Senator from Texas, John Cornyn, voting against the SCHIP bill.

As Josh Berthume points out, Cornyn responded by stating, "My hope is this will not be used simply as a political football."Let's put this into football context: Cornyn just punted and Democrats have the ball. He's still upset that he wasn't able to say he supported the issue but voted against the bill. Too bad the instant replay clearly shows Cornyn's knee hitting the ground in front of the veto by President Bush. It seems that the strong bipartisan team, which includes fellow Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison, just rolled over his ideological line with their support of SCHIP.

At this point, Cornyn's team is arguing with the referees. Scott McCown and Ann Dunkleberg with the Center for Public Policy Priorities know the CHIP rule book better than anyone, and they called Cornyn out on his misleading explanation of his vote. Granted, the CPPP has been advocating for the SCHIP bill from the beginning, but add to the fact the Annenberg Public Policy Center joined with the CPPP in calling Cornyn's statement misleading, and you have a classic football line:

After further review, the call on the field stands. Cornyn, your team is charged with misleading on the issue, that's loss of credibility. . . first down!

What really hurts is that Cornyn is playing this game at home, not on the road. From an 8th grade B team to the Dallas Cowboys, Texas football fans know the game and don't make excuses. CHIP has become a huge issue in Texas, and Texas voters get it. It isn't partisan. It isn't regional. But it is a statewide problem: of the 9.4 million children in America who lack insurance coverage, 1.3 million live in Texas. The home crowd is turning on Cornyn, and he knows it.

His spokesman was busy working on Friday afternoon trying to come back after Harvey Kronberg's Quorum Report slammed Cornyn in a piece called, "Is Cornyn Mischaracterizing what is in the SCHIP Bill?" When journalists start questioning the facts cited by a politician, you begin to feel like the crowd is ready to fire the coach. When former State Rep. Martha Wong used her first TV ad of the 2006 campaign to site her support for CHIP, a quick review of her voting record proved otherwise. The Houston Chronicle ran the following headline: "Lawmaker Touts Program She Voted To Cut." Voters ran her off by the largest margin of defeat for any incumbent in 2006. That's called a whup'n.

After hearing it from the fans, Cornyn signed on to the Kids First bill, which is being pushed by Senator Trent Lott. Try as they might, I don't see Kids First getting 10 yards in the Democratically controlled Congress that just passed a much larger SCHIP bill by a near veto-proof margin. Supporters of expanding SCHIP don't need to change quarterbacks when the vetoed legislation had strong bi-partisan support, including 18 Senate Republicans. Kids First has been reduced to a third stringer playing behind a Heisman winner, meaning it will never get into the game. (Glad we had a such a good recruiting class in 2006, or we'd be stuck with Kids First as our starter!)

So what's next in this game? Well, Cornyn is definitely playing defense now, and I think we should run it right at him. It is hard to change the score: Texas has the highest rate of uninsured children in the country, and he just voted against the SCHIP bill. Democrats, Republicans, and child advocates that support CHIP should hold as many rallies, press conferences, and letter writing campaigns as possible. In other words, we need the crowd to start making some noise.

Our quarterback should instruct the players to go into the "hurry up" offense, come to the line and call the play: "Cornyn voted no on HR 976, no on HR 976, ready, set, hike, hike!!" In other words, we need to put out the word that when it came time to vote, Cornyn is against SCHIP.

Combining his negative vote, his misleading justification, and his back peddling efforts to support a much reduced measure, Cornyn has moved to playing a "prevent" defense. As all good football fans know, a prevent defense doesn't really prevent anything: it is mainly an effort to keep the ball and the other players in front of you, and it frequently fails.

We have to keep the pressure up. I can already hear his tiring defense calling out their scheme: John Cornyn voted for CHIP after he voted against it! Read his lips, Cornyn supports CHIP! He supports CHIP, just not the CHIP bill!

These are the "Hail Mary" passes Cornyn hopes the media and voters will believe. We should call him out for what these statements are: gimmick plays. As Knute Rockney famously implored the Notre Dame team, "We've got'um on the run and we're gonna keep'um on the run." We have to run the score up on this one. It is a long time until November 2008. But we've got a good game plan, and we are playing for a whole lot more than a district or conference championship, or even a Superbowl.

We are fighting for the children of working families in Texas. We HAVE to win, because the victory isn't about us: it is about our children and our future. They don't deserve an intellectually dishonest politician claiming to support a program he voted against, or an analogy about how he isn't to blame.

Because this isn't about political football, it's about representing your constituents. And for those of us who think Cornyn should be benched, we need to let our fellow Texans know we are keeping score.

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