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Congress Unlikely To Override Veto Of SCHIP Kids' Health Insurance

Armen Hareyan's picture

State Children's Health Insurance Program

House Democrats "are not in a negotiating mood" after garnering morethan 40 votes from Republicans on Tuesday in support of a compromiseSCHIP reauthorization and expansion bill, CongressDaily reports (Johnson, CongressDaily,9/27). The compromise bill would provide an additional $35 billion infunding over the next five years and bring total spending on theprogram to $60 billion. The additional funding would be paid for by a61-cent-per-pack increase in the tobacco tax. The Senate is expected tovote on the measure this week. President Bush has promised to veto thelegislation (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 9/26).

Evenif Republicans are able to sustain Bush's veto, Rep. Diana DeGette(D-Colo.) said that any attempt to lower the level of funding or numberof children covered would not be acceptable to House Democrats whoaccepted the $35 billion funding level after passing a bill at a $50billion funding level.

House Republicans "said they hope the veto will begin a discussion about the SCHIP bill," according to CongressDaily.Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) on Wednesday said he hopes small changescould be made to the bill to gain Bush's support, noting that thepresident is protesting the "ideology" of SCHIP expansion. If Bush andCongress could reach an agreement on the ideology, then an agreement onfunding levels could follow. However, Hatch conceded that this wasunlikely to occur before the program expires on Sept. 30 (CongressDaily, 9/27).

Other bill supporters hope that the "wide margin of bipartisan approval will persuade" Bush not to veto the legislation, the AP/Contra Costa Times reports (Freking, AP/Contra Costa Times, 9/27).

Veto Override Prospects

House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said that he is "absolutelyconfident" that the House can sustain a veto. Blunt said, "We hadexactly who we needed, and we had several more members who would havebeen there if we needed them." Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) said it isunlikely that Democrats will sway any Republicans to change theirpositions, and more likely that Republicans who voted in favor of thebill will not vote to override the president's veto.

However,Democrats expect some Republicans, especially those in politicallysensitive districts, to come under enough pressure to change their voteon the bill, according to a House Democratic leadership aide. DeGettesaid that the "pressure on a number of members of Congress to overridethe veto will increase dramatically if or when the president vetoes thebill" (Wayne, CQ Today, 9/26).


The "volatile confrontation" between the president and Congress thatlikely will result from the passage of the SCHIP bill is "likely toreverberate in next year's congressional and presidential elections," Cox/St. Paul Pioneer Pressreports. Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas) -- who in 2004 defeated hisRepublican opponent by highlighting that the opponent had sponsored ameasure that cut 147,000 children from Texas' SCHIP -- said "thepolitical consequences could be very significant" for Republicans "ifthe American people see the administration as out of touch with thehealth care concerns of everyday working families."

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee-- "less than 12 hours after the House passed the bill" -- launched apublic relations campaign against incumbent Republicans consideredpolitically vulnerable in the 2008 election, according to Cox/St. Paul Pioneer Press.However, losing Republican seats over votes against the SCHIP bill "isa political risk the White House apparently is willing to take," Cox/Pioneer Press reports (Shepard, Cox/Pioneer Press, 9/27).

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Minority Caucuses

Leaders of three minority caucuses -- the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus-- on Wednesday said that they will include language requiring legalimmigrants to be eligible for SCHIP and Medicaid in other "must-pass"bills after allowing the language to be removed from the compromiseSCHIP bill, CongressDaily reports. Possible legislative vehicles for the provision include the Medicare physicians' fee fix or an omnibus spending bill.

Rep.Hilda Solis (D-Calif.), head of CHC's health task force, said, "We justhave to continue to forge on in that matter and fully let our leadersknow that we're together on this" because "the minute they see someonefalling off or not on the same message, then they don't pay attention."Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that the provisionlikely will encounter the same resistance it did as part of the SCHIPbill (Johnson, CongressDaily, 9/26).

White House, Congress Tensions

"[T]ension" between lawmakers and the Bush administration "is boggingdown efforts" to reauthorize SCHIP and is a "worrisome sign forDemocrats seeking to make their agenda ... into reality," the Wall Street Journal reports. According to the Journal,the debate over SCHIP boils down to "a simple question: How involvedshould the government be in paying for health care for the uninsured?"

TheWhite House and Congress "have little incentive to work together"because Democrats "are eager to spar with the White House on thepopular issue of covering kids," while Bush "wants to rally the supportof conservatives and portray the Democratic Congress as fiscallyirresponsible and ineffective." Mark McClellan, a former White Housepolicy adviser and former CMSadministrator under Bush, said, "Despite all the good will and interestin trying to find a better way to cover the uninsured, I can understandwhy there are frustrations on all sides that we haven't been able to dobetter than this."

Bush has said he would rather providecoverage for children in families with annual incomes greater than 200%of the federal poverty level through revisions to the tax code.However, tax changes "appear unlikely to become law" this year, andbecause Republicans and Bush "haven't coalesced around an alternativeto the [S]CHIP expansion that has momentum in the short term," it makesit "even more difficult, even for Republicans sympathetic to ... Bush'sview, to sustain a fight against the popular idea of more healthinsurance for children" (Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 9/27).

SCHIP Debate

The AP/Las Vegas Sunon Wednesday examined "the claims and counterclaims being tossed about"in the debate over SCHIP and "what in fact the bill would actually do."One claim is that the expansion would encourage "crowd-out," wherefamilies opt to enroll in government programs rather than privateinsurance. The Congressional Budget Officeestimates that about 3.8 million individuals would become eligible forSCHIP under the bill and that about two million additional people wouldswitch from private coverage to public coverage if the legislation isapproved.

The Bush administration and Republicans claim thatthe bill would allow children in families with annual incomes of up to$83,000 to be eligible for the program. However, the bill essentiallycaps the maximum eligibility level at 300% of the federal povertylevel, or $61,800. At levels above 300%, states would receive a lowerfederal match that averages 70%.

The Bush administration andRepublicans also claim that the bill would make it easier forundocumented immigrants to participate in Medicaid. However, the billonly changes how individuals prove U.S. citizenship. Rather thanrequiring a birth certificate or passport, the bill would allowindividuals to present a Social Security number.

Another claimis that the proposed 61-cent cigarette tax would overburdenlower-income residents. According to a study by Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation,two-thirds of federal tobacco taxes are paid by individuals with annualincomes of less than $40,000, while less than 1% are paid byindividuals with annual incomes of greater than $100,000 (Freking, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 9/26).

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.