Reid Files For Cloture On SCHIP Legislation

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State Children's Health Insurance Program

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Friday filed a motionto limit debate on a modified bill that would reauthorize and expandSCHIP, CQ Today reports (CQ Today, 10/26).

The revised legislation (HR 3963) -- which is similar to the bill vetoed by President Bush earlier this month -- would expand SCHIP to cover 10million children and increase spending on the program to $35 billionover five years, funded with a 61-cent-per-pack increase in the federalcigarette tax. The bill would limit coverage to children in familieswith annual incomes below 300% of the federal poverty level.

The House on Thursday approved the measure by a 265-142 vote (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 10/26). The Senate could vote on the bill as early as Tuesday (Wayne, CQ Today, 10/26). The chamber first must finish work on a bill reauthorizing money for Amtrak before it can take up the SCHIP bill (CQ Today, 10/26).

According to CQ Today,"What happens now will likely be little more than political theater"because the bill "is expected to pass the Senate with a veto-proofmajority; proceed to ... Bush, who has said he will veto it; come backto the House, where an override vote will fail; and join the first twobills on the scrap heap of legislative history" (Wayne, CQ Today,10/26). Bush said that Senate discussion of modified bill "wastesvaluable time" because the House does not have a veto-proof majority(Babington, AP/Wichita Eagle, 10/27).

Meeting, Next Steps

A group of 36 Republicans on Monday sent a letter to House SpeakerNancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)outlining changes to the bill that could persuade Republicans tosupport the measure. The letter requested that an SCHIP bill includeprovisions that require states to cover low-income children beforecovering children in middle-class families; move adults out of theprogram; and take additional precautions to ensure that families do notdrop private coverage to enroll in the program (Wayne, CQ Today, 10/26).

Hoyer and Democratic CaucusChair Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) on Monday will meet with a group ofRepublicans "seen as crucial to deciding whether more changes to thebill will give backers the all-important two-thirds majority thateludes them," according to the AP/Wichita Eagle. Rep. Judy Biggert (Ill.) will lead the Republican group, lawmakers said (AP/Wichita Eagle, 10/27).

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Meanwhile,how Democrats address the Nov. 16 expiration of the continuingresolution that currently funds the program "will signal how theyintend to proceed with SCHIP," according to CQ Today.Passing a short-term extension of the program "would suggest thatDemocrats still hope to negotiate a permanent expansion of SCHIP withRepublicans," while passing a long-term extension -- which could expiredirectly prior to the 2008 elections -- "would suggest that Democratshave resolved to use children's health insurance as a politicalweapon," CQ Today reports (Wayne, CQ Today, 10/26).

Dean, Laura Bush

Democratic PartyChair Howard Dean on Saturday criticized Republicans in Congress forsupporting increased funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan whilevetoing health care for children, the AP/Boston Heraldreports. "The Republican leaders have made their choice," Dean said,adding, "They want to stay in Iraq and deny our kids health care." Hecontinued, "America cannot afford four more years of a president whoborrows for the war and denies health insurance for our kids" (AP/Boston Herald, 10/27).

First Lady Laura Bush on Sunday in an interview on Fox News Channel's "Fox News Sunday"defended Bush's veto of the SCHIP bill. Bush called SCHIP "a perfectissue" for Democrats to demagogue on, adding, "It's really easy toblame people for so-called voting against children." Bush said, "Thepresident is very anxious to work with Congress and to come up withsomething that both he and they can be proud of" (Blake, The Hill, 10/28).

Democrat, Republican Differences

In related news, the AP/Contra Costa Timeson Sunday examined "the differences that will probably need to beresolved for Democrats to override a promised veto from Bush," such asstates' flexibility in deciding income limits and funding. According tothe AP/Times, about three dozen states ignore certainincome when determining eligibility for SCHIP, but the issue of incomedisregards "has received little attention." That "started to change inlast week's debate on the House floor," the AP/Times reports.

Rep.Joe Barton (R-Texas) said, "You leave it up to the states to say youcan't have an income level over 300%" of the poverty level, but "youcan deduct $20,000 for a housing allowance or you can deduct $15,000for shelter or whatever," adding, "So, what you've got here is theclassic bait and switch." Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) said that incomedisregards allow states to ensure that low-income families do not haveto resort to welfare to receive health coverage for their children.

Republicansand Democrats also disagree over funding for the expansion. Bush wouldlike to pay for the bill from among recommended new fees and spendingcuts worth $96 billion that were included in his budget proposal. Therecommendation included higher prescription drug copayments forveterans without disabilities, and increased premiums for Medicareprescription drug plans and physician services for higher-incomebeneficiaries. However, "most of those proposals generated littlesupport in Congress," according to the AP/Times (Freking, AP/Contra Costa Times, 10/29).

Editorials

  • Wall Street Journal: "Democrats say they are urgently concerned for children's health, but their main priority seems to be politics," a Journaleditorial states. According to the editorial, "Democrats say they'modified'" the SCHIP bill to "placate conservative objections, but thepolicy changes are ornamental" and "address side concerns" in somecases. The editorial adds, "The reauthorization is still propped up bya tax increase, on cigarettes, and it preserves the budget gimmick thatdisguises the true cost and hands off funding responsibility to afuture Congress." Democrats also have "spurned" all Bush administration"genuflections" on the legislation, the editorial states. In the eventthat a veto override vote fails, "Democrats are likely to pass acontinuing resolution funding SCHIP at current levels for another year,positioning a new political blow-up just before the election," theeditorial states, adding, "So much for the priority of coveringchildren" (Wall Street Journal, 10/27).
  • Washington Post:The revised SCHIP bill "makes significant changes to address thecriticisms of President Bush and some Republican lawmakers," but "HouseDemocratic leaders chose to muscle the program through the chamber lastweek in such a way as to fail to win over any wavering Republicans andto annoy enough others that the prospects for a compromise may be worsethan ever," a Post editorial states. According to theeditorial, "If the Democrats' goal is to win approval of a measure thatwould cover more poor children and not to simply score extra politicalpoints by keeping the issue alive, it's hard to see how their tacticsmade sense." However, in the event that Bush and his "Republican alliesreally are committed to getting children the health coverage they needand not just to preventing Democrats from racking up a legislativeachievement, it's hard to explain their continuing intransigence," theeditorial concludes (Washington Post, 10/29).

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 HealthPolicy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The HenryJ. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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