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House Couldn't Override Veto Of SCHIP Expansion Legislation

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State Children's Health Insurance Program

The House on Thursday voted 273-156 to sustain President Bush's vetoof legislation that would have reauthorized and expanded SCHIP, the Wall Street Journal reports (Wall Street Journal, 10/19). Supporters of the bill were 13 votes short of overriding the veto (Lengell, Washington Times,10/19). The legislation would have provided an additional $35 billionin funding for the program over the next five years and increased totalSCHIP spending to $60 billion. The additional funding would have beenpaid for by a 61-cent-per-pack increase in the tobacco tax (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 10/18).

Inthe vote, 229 Democrats and 44 Republicans supported the override, andtwo Democrats and 154 Republicans voted to sustain the veto. SixDemocrats reversed their initial vote to override the veto, and onenewly elected House member, Rep. Nicola Tsongas (D-Mass.), voted tooverride (Pear/Gay Stolberg, New York Times, 10/19). None of the Republicans targeted in an advertising campaign by legislation supporters voted to override the veto (CongressDaily, 10/18).

HouseSpeaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said work will begin immediately on anew bill. "It is our intention to put a bill on the president's desk intwo weeks," Pelosi said (Yachnin, Roll Call, 10/18).However, Pelosi said she would not compromise on the number of childrenwho would be eligible for coverage under a new SCHIP bill and "gave noindication" that she was willing to compromise on the cigarette taxincrease, the Boston Globe reports (Issenberg, Boston Globe,10/19). Pelosi said, "There are only 10 Republican members of Congressstanding in the way now of 10 million children getting health care inAmerica. We think that's a number that is very doable." Pelosi said sheis ready to begin discussions with Bush "anytime he is ready" (Wolf, USA Today, 10/19).

White House Response

White House spokesperson Dana Perino said that Bush is pleased with theoutcome of the override vote and would like to move forward withnegotiations on the program. "As it is clear that this legislationlacks sufficient support to become law, now is the time for Congress tostop playing politics and to join the president in finding commonground," Perino said in a statement (Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times,10/19). Perino on Thursday said, "If enrolling these children requiresmore than the 20% funding increase proposed by the president, we willwork with Congress to find the money" (Kucinich et al., The Hill, 10/19).

DeputyPress Secretary Tony Fratto said, "This isn't the last fight we'regoing to have where Democrats will try to put forth legislation that ispopulist or will tug at the heart strings." Fratto continued, "Is it agood day? No. A good day will be the day that we pass legislation thatthe president can sign. But it is gratifying to know that we've gotRepublicans with sufficient backbone who are willing to stand tall andfight on principle in order to get the policy right" (New York Times, 10/19).

HHSSecretary Mike Leavitt, who has been appointed by Bush as anadministration negotiator for SCHIP, said that the administration"offers an open door" and that he looks forward to "helping craftlegislation that we can all support" (Pugh, McClatchy/Miami Herald, 10/19). However, Leavitt said, "If they send the same bill down, they'll get the same result" (USA Today, 10/19).

Democratic Strategy

Democrats "may not need to revise their proposal by much," considering how close Thursday's vote was, according to CQ Today (Armstrong [1], CQ Today,10/18). The new version of the bill "will probably give Republicanssome face-saving alternative but no substantive change," the Washington Post reports (Weisman/Lee, Washington Post,10/19). The "goal for Democrats -- at least for the short term -- isnot to compromise on the $35 billion increase in the program or thenumber of children covered, but tweak the bill so that just enoughpolitically vulnerable Republicans feel comfortable changing theirvotes," according to The Politico (Kady, The Politico, 10/18).

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RepublicanReps. Michael Castle (Del.), Charles Dent (Pa.), Mark Kirk (Ill.) andHeather Wilson (N.M.) sent a letter to Pelosi listing changes thatcould increase Republican support for the bill, including tighteningrequirements that SCHIP and Medicaid beneficiaries prove theircitizenship and provisions that would phase in any changes to theprogram to save money (Johnson, CongressDaily, 10/19).The lawmakers also wrote that the bill should eliminate adult coverageand cap income eligibility at 300% of the federal poverty level. Wilsonsaid, "Some relatively small changes can be made to reach a compromise"(The Hill, 10/19).

A separate group ofRepublicans, including Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) and BobCorker (Tenn.), on Thursday sent a letter signed by the 18 Republicanswho voted for the SCHIP bill asking House and Senate leaders to remainamenable to compromise (CongressDaily, 10/19). A thirdgroup of Republicans in a letter to Bush outlined six generalprinciples that should be present in future SCHIP bills, "but Democratsargued that those principles, such as not covering illegal immigrantsand limiting coverage to poor children, are in the current bill,"according to The Hill. In addition, a fourth group ofRepublicans sent a separate letter to Bush outlining suggestions forreaching a compromise, which included support for an alternativeRepublican SCHIP bill (The Hill, 10/19).

TheDemocratic strategy sets "up the possibility that Bush could veto themeasure again if it were not changed significantly to meet hisobjections," which "could turn the effort to reauthorize" SCHIP "into amajor political football," according to the Chicago Tribune (Neikirk, Chicago Tribune,10/19). Until legislation is approved, Democrats plan to fund SCHIP atcurrent levels through continuing resolutions, and Republicans "arebracing for several short-term extensions of the program that couldrequire several politically volatile votes on SCHIP leading up to the2008 elections," CongressDaily reports (CongressDaily, 10/19).

Alternative Proposal

Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) and Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) on Thursday after the override vote introduced legislation (S 2193)that would reauthorize the program and increase spending by $11.5billion over five years, which could fund coverage for an additional1.5 million lower-income children. The plan would offer tax credits tofamilies with annual incomes between 200% and 300% of the federalpoverty level. The tax credits would be worth as much as $1,400annually per child and would allow families to purchase privatecoverage, according to Martinez (Matthews, Orlando Sentinel,10/19). Martinez said, "We are now at an impasse. It is time for us tothink of solutions, not posturing, not political points to be scored,but helping the children have the insurance that they need" (Orlando Sentinel, 10/19).

Additional Lobbying

Democrats "wasted no time in releasing another round of advertisements targeting vulnerable Republicans," The Politico reports. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Thursday sent releases to 33 Republican districts criticizing the vote against the override (The Politico, 10/18). MoveOn.org Political Action and USActionon Thursday announced that they will launch a television ad campaignagainst six Republicans who voted to sustain the veto. The ad campaign,which will begin next week, targets Reps. Sam Graves (Mo.), Feeney, RicKeller (Fla.), Randy Kuhl (N.Y.), Marilyn Musgrave (Colo.) and TimWalberg (Mich.) (CongressDaily, 10/19).

Other Comments

House Republican ConferenceChair Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) said, "Today, House Republicans voted to putpoor kids first and pave the way for a responsible expansion of theSCHIP program" (Washington Times, 10/19).

Presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) said, "I think (this) is a major point of contention in thenext election, because it is hard to justify tax cuts to wealthyAmericans, ... a war that our president ... refuses to pay for, and notbeing able to find the money to extend health insurance to the childrenof the middle class and working families," adding, "It doesn't add upmorally, it doesn't add up economically, and it doesn't add uppolitically."

Kaiser Family FoundationPresident and CEO Drew Altman said that a compromise might be possible,noting, "If the White House moves up on the money, and the Democratsmove down on the eligibility ... that would allow the vast majority ofstates to go where they want to," adding, "I can readily envision how adeal could be made -- if they are in a mood to make one" (Los Angeles Times, 10/19).

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.