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Bush Vetoes SCHIP Children's Health Insurance Reauthorization, Legislation

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State Children's Health Insurance Program

President Bush on Wednesday vetoed legislation that would havereauthorized SCHIP and expanded enrollment in the program to about 10million children, the AP/Houston Chronicle reports (Loven, AP/Houston Chronicle,10/3). House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority LeaderHarry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday formally delivered the bill to the WhiteHouse, which set Bush up to deliver the fourth veto of his presidency(Kaplan, The Hill, 10/3).

Thecompromise bill provided an additional $35 billion in funding over thenext five years and brought total spending on the program to $60billion. The additional funding would have been paid for by a61-cent-per-pack increase in the tobacco tax. The House last week voted265-159 to approve the measure, with 45 Republicans voting in favor andeight Democrats voting against the bill. The Senate on Thursday voted67-29 to approve the legislation, with 18 of the 49 Senate Republicansvoting in favor. The program expired on Sunday (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 10/1).

The White House said that the president planned to veto the bill in private without any press (Loven, AP/Long Island Newsday, 10/3). According to The Politico, lobbyists supporting the legislation will focus their efforts on Capitol Hill, not the White House (Frates, The Politico, 10/3).

TheHouse likely will postpone a veto override vote until after next week,House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on Tuesday(Johnson/Koffler, CongressDaily, 10/3). "Maybe next week.Maybe the week after. There's no time limit" for holding the overridevote, Hoyer said. Democratic leaders indicated they will delay theoverride vote "for days or weeks to allow political pressure toincrease on House Republicans who opposed the measure," according to CQ Today (Wayne, CQ Today, 10/2).

Post-Veto Discussions

Republicans who voted against the bill "want the veto to represent thebeginning of a [new] discussion on how to reauthorize" the program, CongressDaily reports (CongressDaily,10/3). Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said, "We should notallow [SCHIP] to be expanded to higher and higher income levels, and toadults. This is about poor children." He added that Democrats andRepublicans "can work it out" (AP/Long Island Newsday, 10/3).

Hoyersaid that Democrats had asked 15 Republicans to change positions andvote to override Bush's veto but that none had agreed to do so yet(Hunt, AP/Houston Chronicle, 10/2). Hoyer said he thought the goal was attainable.

However,House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said he is "absolutely confident"the House will be able to sustain Bush's veto (Lengell, Washington Times, 10/3).

WhiteHouse spokesperson Dana Perino chided bill supporters for using aregressive tobacco tax increase "to pay for a middle-class entitlement"(Silva, Chicago Tribune,10/3). Perino noted that smokers tend to come from the lowest incomelevels and added, "It's just completely irresponsible. Stop the madnesson Capitol Hill" (AP/Houston Chronicle, 10/2).

If lawmakers are unable to override Bush's veto, Congress will send the bill back to Bush to sign, according to Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

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Alternative Plan

Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) said he is working with House Energy and Commerce Committeeranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas) and the White House on a new SCHIPproposal that would provide enough funding for the program to maintaincurrent beneficiaries. It would give $1,400 tax credits to familieswith annual incomes between 200% and 300% of the federal poverty level,which would cover an estimated two million additional children,Martinez said.

The bill has yet to be scored. Martinez onTuesday said, "We, as Republicans, can't just be against something.We've got to be for something." Senate Finance Committee ranking memberChuck Grassley (R-Iowa) dismissed Martinez's plan. He said, "They weretalking about that in March and April and May," adding, "If they wereready to go, why didn't they offer it?"

Medicare Revisions

Baucus on Tuesday said that lawmakers will not be able to address ascheduled 10% cut to Medicare physician reimbursements until they knowthe outcome of the SCHIP override vote. He acknowledged that some typeof Medicare package needs to be discussed before lawmakers adjourn.

Baucus'committee is in discussions on a legislative package that temporarilywould delay the cut to physician payments and make small revisions tothe prescription drug program (CongressDaily, 10/3).

Presidential Candidates on SCHIP

In related news, while Democratic presidential candidates have beenvocal about their support for SCHIP, Republican presidential candidates"are lining up behind Bush's vow to veto the legislation," CongressDailyreports. Even so, "none of the Republican presidential hopefuls appearto be going out of their way to call attention to their positions onSCHIP," according to CongressDaily.

Presidential candidate and Sen. John McCain(R-Ariz.) said that he would "probably vote to sustain the president'sveto" because of concerns over whether the tobacco tax would raisesufficient funds to pay for the program expansion.

Presidential candidate and former Sen. Fred Thompson(R-Tenn.) expressed similar concerns, adding, "It's unfortunate that(members of Congress) pit people against one another. .... We're on anunsustainable spending path in this country and no one seems willing toput the brakes on anywhere."

Presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney(R) said he would veto SCHIP legislation because the program "is a veryexpensive way to spend more money and not get us much down the track ofgetting everybody insured."

Presidential candidate and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani(R) last month expressed concerns that the proposal would allow somestates to increase income eligibility to 400% of the poverty level.

In contrast, presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton(D-N.Y.) "frequently" mentions the SCHIP legislation -- "and Bush'sthreatened veto -- in her stump speeches to promote her record," CongressDaily reports (Aigner-Treworgy, et al., CongressDaily, 10/3).

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.