Baptists hold one of the keys to overriding President Bush’s veto last week of a bipartisan bill that would provide health insurance to millions of low-income children.

Will goodwill Baptists turn the key? Or will Baptists remain morally indifferent or politically disengaged about children at risk to the lack of good health care?

The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) will provide coverage to some four million more children, most of whom live in low-income families.

But the Bush administration claims that increased health care insurance for poor children is too costly and will be a burden for smokers. Yes, one of their arguments against good health care is an argument for cancer.

The Senate and House passed a plan paid for with new taxes on cigarettes, amounting to an increase of 61-cents per pack. That would raise $35 billion over five years.

The White House press secretary said that tax increase would hurt smokers, the majority of whom are low-income folk.

Ironically, increased taxation on cigarettes is considered by pro-health advocates as a proven way to reduce smoking and thereby improve public health.

Overriding Bush’s veto therefore makes doubly good-sense. More low-income children would have health care, and one of the leading causes of ill-health–smoking–would be reduced.

The Senate has enough votes to override Bush’s veto, but the House of Representatives is some 20 votes shy.

A former Southern Baptist university president and the House Republican Whip, Roy Blunt, R-Mo., claims with absolute confidence that the House will sustain the president’s veto.

Let’s work to prove him wrong. To do that, pro-health advocates must persuade 20 congressmen to change their votes in the next two weeks.

More pointedly, if goodwill Baptists believe in the biblical imperative to protect the poor, care for the ill and seek the welfare for those at the margins of life, then we must speak up and speak loudly. That means calling congressmen who belong to Baptist churches in the South and one in Arizona.

Below is a list of congressmen who voted against health care insurance for low-income children. They are listed by state and church membership. Click here for contact information.

–Alabama: Spencer Bachus, Hunter Street Baptist Church, Hoover; Terry Everett, First Baptist Church, Enterprise; Mike Rogers, Saks Baptist Church, Anniston.
–Arkansas: John Boozman, First Baptist Church, Rogers.
–Arizona: Trent Franks, North Phoenix Baptist Church, Phoenix.
–Georgia: Nathan Deal, First Baptist Church, Gainesville; Lynn Westmoreland, Southcrest Baptist Church, Newnan.
–Louisiana: Rodney Alexander, Sweetwater Baptist Church, Quitman.
–Kentucky: Ron Lewis, White Mills Baptist Church, White Mills; Harold Rogers, First Baptist Church, Somerset.
–Mississippi: Chip Pickering, First Baptist Church, Laurel; Roger Wicker, First Baptist Church, Tupelo.
–Missouri: Roy Blunt, First Baptist Church, Branson; Sam Graves, First Baptist Church, Tarkio.
–Oklahoma: Frank Lucas, First Baptist Church, Cheyenne.
–South Carolina: Gresham Barrett, Westminster Baptist Church, Westminster; Henry Brown, Cooper River Baptist Church, North Charleston.
–Tennessee: Zach Wamp, Red Bank Baptist Church, Chattanooga.
–Texas: Mike Conaway, First Baptist Church, Midland; Texas: Louis Gohmert, Green Acres Baptist Church, Tyler; Randy Neugebauer, First Baptist Church, Lubbock.
–Virginia: Randy Forbes, Great Bridge Baptist Church, Chesapeake.

In addition to these 22 naysayers, there are 137 other congressmen who cast the wrong vote. For the complete record of the House vote, click here.

A few individual calls for justice will get the attention of these congressmen. If they get calls from those representing institutions, they will pay even more attention.

Call the pastors of these 22 churches. Ask these pastors to speak up for health care for low-income children–based on the clear biblical mandate–by calling their congregant, urging him to vote to override Bush’s veto.

After all, pastors are supposed to be the shepherd of their flock, guarding them for wandering away from good moral action into harmful actions.

Take another step. Call on the Baptist state paper editors and state convention executive directors in the states above–Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia–asking them to speak up for children with support for a bi-partisan bill.

Take yet another step. Call the Baptist college president in these districts, urging them to speak up to their congressman.

Let’s do the right thing by supporting a bipartisan bill that cares for low-come children.

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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