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Bush Calls For Compromise On SCHIP

Armen Hareyan's picture

State Children's Health Insurance Program

President Bush on Saturday in his weekly radio address indicatedthat he is willing to increase funding for SCHIP above his proposedlevel of $5 billion, the Los Angeles Times reports (Pasternak, Los Angeles Times,10/7). The comments were Bush's "first public gesture of a possiblecompromise with the Democrat-controlled Congress on how much to expand"SCHIP, according to the Washington Times (Lengell, Washington Times, 10/7).

Compromiselegislation vetoed by Bush on Wednesday would have provided anadditional $35 billion in funding over the next five years andincreased total spending on the program to $60 billion. The additionalfunding would have been paid for by a 61-cent-per-pack increase in thetobacco tax. An override vote in the House is scheduled for Oct. 18 (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 10/5).

Bushin his weekly radio address said, "If putting poor children first takesa little more than the 20% increase I have proposed in my budget forSCHIP, I am willing to work with leaders in Congress to find theadditional money" (Soraghan, The Hill, 10/6). However, he offered no specifics on how much of an increase he is willing to consider.

Bushcriticized the compromise bill as "deeply flawed," adding that theproposal is "an incremental step toward [Democrats'] goal ofgovernment-run health care for every American," which is "the wrongdirection for our country." Bush also said six states estimate thatthis fiscal year they will spend more on adults covered under SCHIPthan children, and he urged Democrats and Republicans to come togetherto craft a bill "that moves adults off this children's program" (Los Angeles Times, 10/7).

HouseMajority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) in the Democrats' weekly radioaddress responded, "The truth is, America's largest private insurancelobbying group supports this bill -- as do America's doctors, nurses,children's advocates and, most importantly, 72% of Americans" (Freking,AP/Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 10/7).

HHS Secretary Leavitt

HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt on Sunday echoed Bush's calls for compromise, the Washington Timesreports. "If it takes more money, we'll put it up," Leavitt said onABC's "This Week." Like Bush, Leavitt declined to discuss specificfunding levels (Lengell, Washington Times, 10/8). Leavittsaid SCHIP could be at risk if Democrats are unable to controlspending. In addition, he said Democrats would experience negativepolitical consequences -- and the Republican administration would not-- if the program cannot be reauthorized because of a stalemate.Leavitt said, "We're prepared to have negotiations at any time theDemocrats want to," adding, "Unfortunately, they put it off for twoweeks so they can play politics with children's health care" (Yen, AP/Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 10/8).

Republican Alternative

A group of Republican senators who last week introduced an alternativeSCHIP bill is promoting that bill as an option if the House is unableto override a veto, CQ Today reports. The bill --introduced by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), MinorityWhip Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and 17 other Republicans -- would expandSCHIP by $14 billion over five years for a total of $39 billion. Thebill would restrict coverage to individuals younger than age 19 inlow-income families.

However, Republicans who support the compromise bill "seem unlikely to flock to the GOP alternative," according to CQ Today (Armstrong, CQ Today,10/5). Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said, "Because the president andRepublican leaders are not pushing a positive health care agenda, a lotof people are not comfortable opposing anything that has children init," adding that the "lack of a forceful positive agenda from thepresident and leaders in Congress has sort of split our caucus"(Stanton, Roll Call, 10/9).

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Meanwhile, Bush'sveto of the SCHIP legislation and veto threats against 11 of the 12appropriations bills "have failed to energize the conservative basethis year," as "[p]otential political momentum has been slowed by theRepublican Party's own fiscal recklessness in the past," the Washington Timesreports. However, according to a Senate Republican aide, "Democratsrecognize that Republicans can reclaim the fiscal discipline mantle byupholding presidential vetoes on spending bills." The aide added, "So,the cynical speculation is that they will not conference bills,continue to delay and ultimately offer up an omnibus that will be muchmore difficult to veto" (Ward, Washington Times, 10/9).

Congressional Outreach

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on "Fox News Sunday" said thatDemocrats need about 14 additional Republican votes to override Bush'sSCHIP veto, Bloomberg/Denver Postreports. Pelosi said that the next 10 to 14 days will be spentpressuring Republicans to vote to override the veto, although Pelosideclined to give the odds of a successful override. Pelosi said, "Thebest thing that could happen for our country, for our children, for thepresident of the U.S., is that we override this veto" (Larkin, Bloomberg/Denver Post, 10/8).

SenateAssistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Friday called on thepublic to pressure Republican lawmakers to override Bush's veto. Durbinsaid that Democrats "are begging the congressmen to reconsider" theirvote against the bill (Jadhav, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 10/6).

MoveOn.org, Union Campaign

In related news, several advocacy groups and labor unions on Mondaylaunched a $1 million advertising campaign targeting lawmakers whovoted against the SCHIP bill, the New York Times reports (Hulse, New York Times, 10/8). The campaign will use television and radio ads in 17 congressional districts held by Republicans (Johnson, CongressDaily, 10/5). MoveOn.org, Americans United for Change and labor unions announced the ads, which officials said would impact more than 30 Republicans (Hay Brown, Baltimore Sun, 10/6). AFL-CIO, True Majority and USActionalso will launch a "ground campaign" that will include one millionphone calls from union members to 43 House members in 24 states askingthem to override the veto (CongressDaily, 10/5).

Onead from Americans United claims that Bush has the wrong prioritiesbecause he "and his backers would rather send half a trillion to Iraqthan spend a fraction of that here to keep our kids healthy" (Freking, AP/Fort Worth Star-Telegram,10/6). Alan Charney, program director of USAction, said, "We're goingto create such a firestorm of passion and anger that these Republicanswill have no choice but to switch" (Clark, Miami Herald, 10/6).

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employeesis targeting Reps. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), SamGraves (R-Mo.), Joseph Knollenberg (R-Mich.), Randy Kuhl (R-N.Y.),Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.), Thomas Reynolds (R-N.Y.) and Tim Walberg(R-Mich.).

The Service Employees International Unionin television ads is targeting Reps. Rodney Alexander (R-La.), JohnBoozman (R-Ark.), Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.), Thelma Drake (R-Va.), KayGranger (R-Texas), Robin Hayes (R-N.C.), Tim Johnson (R-Ill.), Kuhl andReynolds. SEIU in radio ads is targeting Reps. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.)and Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) (CongressDaily, 10/5).


The New York Timeson Saturday examined how the debate over SCHIP "offers a cautionarylesson to Democrats running for president" because it "shows how hardit will be to persuade many Republicans to sign on to their vision ofuniversal coverage." According to the New York Times,"Many of the questions that provoked fierce argument in the battle overthe child health bill" -- such as whether the government shouldsubsidize coverage for middle-income people, the extent to whichgovernment should be involved, who would pay for coverage and how muchthe government should contribute -- "would be even more divisive in adebate over universal coverage."

In addition, the debate overSCHIP "prefigures a battle over health policy that is likely to runthrough the presidential campaign and occupy center stage in Congressin 2009, regardless of who wins the election," the New York Timesreports. Defining the role of the government in health care will be"perhaps the biggest domestic policy challenge facing the nextpresident," with Democrats supporting a larger role for the governmentand Republicans criticizing an expansion in the role of the government,according to the New York Times (Pear, New York Times, 10/6).

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.