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President Bush Vows To Veto SCHIP Expansion Legislation

Armen Hareyan's picture

State Children's Health Insurance Program

President Bush in a news conference on Thursday promised to vetocompromise legislation that would reauthorize and expand SCHIP, callingthe proposed expansion a step toward "government-run health care forevery American," USA Today reports (Jackson, USA Today, 9/21).

Adraft compromise bill, announced on Sunday, reportedly closelyresembles the Senate version of SCHIP legislation, which would providean additional $35 billion in funding over the next five years and bringtotal spending on the program to $60 billion. The additional fundingwould be paid for by an increase in the tobacco tax, which would besimilar to the 61-cent-per-pack tax proposed in the Senate version. Thecompromise bill does not include revisions to Medicare (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 9/20).

Bush has proposed an additional $5 billion for SCHIP over five years (USA Today,9/21). Bush said, "I believe this is a step toward federalization ofhealth care," adding that Congress' proposal "is beyond the scope ofthe program, and that's why I'm going to veto the bill" (Silva, Chicago Tribune, 9/21). Bush urged Congress to pass a "clean, temporary extension" of the program (Stolberg, New York Times, 9/21).

Hesaid that while he and Congress work out the issues with thereauthorization, Congress "has an obligation to make sure healthinsurance for poor children does not lapse" (Schor, The Hill,9/21). Bush said that if Democrats do not pass an extension of theprogram, "more than a million children could lose health coverage," and"coverage for these children should not be held hostage while politicalads are being made and new polls are being taken" (Freking, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/21).

Bushsaid, "Instead of working with the administration to enact this fundingincrease for children's health, Democrats in Congress have decided topass a bill that they know will be vetoed" (Chicago Tribune,9/21). He added, "Members of Congress are putting health coverage forpoor children at risk so they score political points in Washington" (USA Today, 9/21).

Additional Comments

Bush said, "Democratic leaders in Congress want to put more power inthe hands of government by expanding federal health care programs,"adding, "I have a different view. I believe the best approach is to putmore power in the hands of individuals by empowering people and theirdoctors to make health care decisions that are right for them."

Thefederal government "should work to make basic private health insuranceaffordable and accessible for all Americans," Bush said (Ward, Washington Times, 9/21). Bush added that the compromise bill would "raise taxes on working people." HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said that Democrats lack sufficient support to sustain a veto (USA Today, 9/21).

Lawmakers' Response

Bush's comments on Thursday "set off a storm of complaint not only fromDemocrats on Capitol Hill, but also from some Republicans," accordingto the Los Angeles Times. Senate Finance Committeeranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who helped to draft the Senateversion of the bill, said that the president's proposal for SCHIP isinsufficient "to accomplish what he said he wants to do, and that'scover more kids" (Gerstenzang, Los Angeles Times, 9/21). He added, "The White House must recognize that bipartisan compromise is necessary" to continue the program (USA Today,9/21). Grassley said, "Drawing lines in the sand at this stage isn'tconstructive. I wish he'd engage Congress in a bill that he could signinstead of threatening a veto, and I hope he'll still do that" (New York Times, 9/21).

SenateFinance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) in a statement said, "Thepresident may be willing to cut off health care for low-income kids,but here in the Congress, we will not" (The Hill, 9/21). An extension of the program would "kick kids out of doctors' offices all across the country," Baucus added (USA Today, 9/21).

HouseSpeaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that an extension would lead tofewer children enrolled in SCHIP. She said, "I don't know what thepoint is of an extension. So that we can have this conversation againand have another extension? The moment of truth is now" (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/21).

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Republican Comments

Some Republicans on Thursday "reacted angrily" to Bush's statements,"raising the likelihood of significant GOP defections when the packagecomes to a vote next week," the Washington Post reports (Lee/Weisman, Washington Post, 9/21). According to the Wall Street Journal,many Republicans "worry about the potential political fallout fromvoting against health insurance for children." Grassley said that"political problems" would result from repeated extensions of theprogram for a few months at a time (McKinnon/Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 9/21).

Grassley,who called Bush on Thursday to persuade him against a veto threat, saidthat he is "disappointed" in the president's decision (Norman, Des Moines Register,9/21). He added that Bush "has been served wrong information about whatour bill would do," noting that Bush said it would provide health carecoverage for children in families with annual incomes up to $83,000,which lawmakers say is not true (Wayne, CQ Today, 9/20).Grassley said Bush's comments indicate a "miserable lack ofunderstanding of what we're doing and even what his own administrationhas done" (Koffler/Johnson, CongressDaily, 9/20).

Sen.Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said he is "hopeful that [Bush] will recognize howhard we fought to keep this within reason" (Canham/Stewart, Salt Lake Tribune, 9/21). When asked if he would vote to override a veto, Hatch said, "You bet your sweet bippy I will" (Washington Post, 9/21).

Democratic Comments

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, "President Bush -- whoran on the promise to enroll millions of more children in [S]CHIP -- isgoing back on his word and irresponsibly threatening to deny kids inworking families the care they need" (Cox/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 9/21).

HouseMajority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said, "The question before thepresident really comes down to this: Will you stand with Americanchildren who through no fault of their own are uninsured, or will yougo back on your own campaign promise and deny them coverage?" (Washington Times, 9/21).

Democratic CaucusChair Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said, "Health care on the domestic side iswhat Iraq is on the foreign policy side. It is a top issue," adding,"When you veto it, you own it" (Chicago Tribune, 9/21).

Medicare Advantage Plans

In related news, House Ways and Means Subcommittee on HealthChair Pete Stark (D-Calif.) on Thursday sent a letter to otherDemocratic House members that said excluding revisions to Medicare fromthe SCHIP reauthorization bill could threaten the passage of thosechanges, CongressDaily reports. The revisions -- whichincluded increased financial assistance for low-income seniors,improved preventive health benefits and a reversal of a scheduled cutto physician reimbursement fees -- were eliminated "for politicaland/or rhetorical reasons that are unclear to me," Stark wrote.

"I'msure there was no intention to betray the trust you placed in ourcommittee," Stark wrote, adding that the House bill had the support ofseveral advocacy groups, including AARP, the American Medical Association, Families USA and the American Hospital Association.He continued, "I want to assure you and them that I had no part inbacking away from my commitment to you in requesting your support."

Starksaid he would ask Democratic leaders to retain the Medicare provisionsin the SCHIP bill if the compromise measure is vetoed by Bush. "Thebill is still there. If we don't override, which we probably will not,then we're back to where we were," Stark said. He added that he doesnot understand Democrats' drive to force a veto by Bush, calling it"unnecessarily divisive."

Pelosi defended the decision tosplit the bills, adding, "I will never, as I said to my caucus, confinethe hopes, dreams and aspirations of the American people to what we canpass legislatively on any given day of the week. It is called thelegislative process. We will do it in two stages instead of one"(Johnson, CongressDaily, 9/21).


  • Wall Street Journal:"What happens next" with SCHIP "will demonstrate whether thebeleaguered ... Bush has any hope of getting his party to toe thefiscal line in upcoming spending battles, and by consequence, whetherRepublicans have any hope of restoring their fiscal credibility withvoters," according to a Journal editorial. The editorialconcludes that conservative "voters will see the bigger test ofre-found fiscal responsibility in whether its Washingtonrepresentatives are willing to say no to big new government spending,"which "begins with SCHIP" (Wall Street Journal, 9/21).
  • Washington Post:Bush's argument against the compromise bill "would be more credible ifthe president were proposing a renewal of SCHIP that would at leastmaintain" the program, according to a Post editorial. However, the Congressional Budget Officehas said Bush's SCHIP proposal "would fall short of what's neededsimply to keep pace with current enrollment levels," according to theeditorial. It concludes, "The administration argues that the solutionis to make private insurance more affordable. A worthy goal. But whatare the children supposed to do for health care in the meantime?" (Washington Post, 9/21).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. Youcan view the entire Kaiser DailyHealth Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email deliveryat kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.