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President Bush Threatens Veto Of SCHIP Legislation

Armen Hareyan's picture

President Bush on Wednesday said he will veto Senate legislationthat would increase funding for SCHIP by $35 billion over five yearsbecause expanding the program would lead to more people droppingprivate health coverage, the Baltimore Sun reports (West, Baltimore Sun, 7/19). Senate Finance Committeemembers on Friday finalized a bipartisan agreement on SCHIPreauthorization that would increase five-year funding for the programfrom $25 billion to $60 billion by raising the federal cigarette taxfrom 39 cents to $1 per pack. SCHIP expires on Sept. 30.

Underthe plan -- negotiated by committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.), rankingmember Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and members Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) andJay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) -- the 6.6 million children currentlyenrolled in SCHIP would continue to receive benefits, and an additional3.3 million uninsured children could be enrolled in the program. Bushhas proposed a $5 billion increase over five years for SCHIP, whichwould increase the program's total five-year funding to $30 billion (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 7/18). The committee on Thursday is scheduled to consider the plan (CongressDaily, 7/18).

Bush Comments

Bush on Wednesday told reporters that the plan amounted to a "massiveexpansion of the federal role" in health care that eventually wouldlead to "less quality care and rationing over time." He added, "Ibelieve government cannot provide affordable health care" (Baltimore Sun, 7/19).

In an interview with the Washington Post,Bush said, "I support the initial intent of the program," adding, "Myconcern is that when you expand eligibility ... you're really beginningto open up an avenue for people to switch from private insurance to thegovernment" (Lee, Washington Post, 7/19).

Bushsaid, "If Congress continues to insist upon expanding health carethrough the SCHIP program -- which, by the way, would entail a huge taxincrease for the American people -- I'll veto the bill" (Reichmann, AP/San Francisco Chronicle,7/18). In addition, Bush said he thinks "it's going to be veryimportant for our allies on Capitol Hill to hear a strong, clearmessage from me that expansion of government in lieu of making thenecessary changes to encourage a consumer-based system is notacceptable" (Washington Post, 7/19).

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Baucus said, "We are preserving [SCHIP] for kids and targeting thelowest-income children for outreach and enrollment," adding, "Thepresident should join the effort to build on the success of [SCHIP] andget health care to more American kids in need now" (AP/San Francisco Chronicle,7/18). House Democratic Caucus Chair Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) said he was"bewildered" by Bush's opposition to the bipartisan plan. Emanuel said,"This is the chance for him to finally be a uniter and not a divider.You have consensus across party and ideology, and a unity on the mostimportant domestic issue, health care -- except for one person" (Washington Post, 7/19).

Meanwhile,Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), a former budget director for the Bushadministration, on Monday at an event sponsored by the Galen Institutesaid he agrees with the president, even though Daniels recently signeda bill that provides health coverage to children in families withannual incomes up to 300% of the federal poverty level. Daniels saidthat he agreed to the 300% benchmark to appease Democrats in the stateLegislature, according to CQ HealthBeat.Daniels added, "I'd like to see SCHIP renewed and at the same levelmuch like the one we have now and the one the president recommends.It's senseless and suspicious to subsidize wealthy people throughSCHIP. There must be some other motive" (Phillips, CQ HealthBeat, 7/18).

Ad Campaign

In related news, the Partnership for Quality Care, a coalition of unionand health care managers, on Friday is launching a $1.2 milliontelevision advertising campaign in support of increasing the tobaccotax to expand SCHIP. The ad will run for two weeks in congressionaldistricts represented by eight Democratic and five Republican Housemembers. The Democratic lawmakers are Reps. Sanford Bishop (Ga.), DanBoren (Okla.), Allen Boyd (Fla.), Lincoln Davis (Tenn.), Brad Ellsworth(Ind.), Baron Hill (Ind.), Harry Mitchell (Ariz.) and Heath Shuler(N.C.). The Republicans are Chris Cannon (Utah), Phil English (Pa.),Steven LaTourette (Ohio), Thomas Reynolds (N.Y.) and Heather Wilson(N.M.).

The 30-second ad states that nine million children donot have health insurance and that 1.5 million children start smokingeach year. A cigarette tax increase "will mean better care for kids ...[a]nd fewer smokers to care for," a nurse in the ad says(Johnson/Wegner, CongressDaily, 7/19).

Editorial, Opinion Piece

  • Boston Globe:"The Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate Finance Committeehave given President Bush the chance to leave a positive legacy onhealth care," a Globe editorial states. However, Bush hasbeen making "deeply misguided arguments ... against the proposal," theeditorial states, adding that he "should accept their compromise" (Boston Globe, 7/19).
  • Morton Kondracke, Roll Call:The "most obvious explanation" for Bush supporting the $400 billionMedicare drug benefit but opposing the SCHIP expansion is that"[s]eniors vote, kids don't," Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call,writes in an opinion piece. This explanation "explodes any vestiges ofBush's claim to be a compassionate conservative," Kondracke writes(Kondracke, Roll Call, 7/19).


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Reprinted with permission fromkaisernetwork.org.You can view the entire KaiserDaily Health Policy Report, search the archives, andsign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published forkaisernetwork.org,a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.