HHS: President Bush Will Veto Any Version Of SCHIP Legislation That Includes Tobacco Tax Increase
State Children's Health Insurance Program
HHS Secretary MikeLeavitt on Monday met with several House Republicans who are indiscussions with a bipartisan group of Senate lawmakers to craft athird version of legislation that would reauthorize and expand SCHIP, CQ Today reports (Armstrong, CQ Today,11/5). Leavitt said the White House is not directly involved incongressional negotiations, adding that the administration is"providing technical assistance." According to Leavitt, President Bushwill veto the latest version of SCHIP legislation, as well as anyversion of the measure that includes a tobacco tax increase. "Thepresident has been very clear that he does not intend, is not willing,to raise taxes and doesn't think it's necessary," Leavitt said(Johnson, CongressDaily, 11/6).
However, CQ Todayreports that "[a]ny compromise bill that moves forward will almostcertainly include such a tax," and even House Republican leaders "havesaid the proposed tobacco tax is not an issue for them." Leavitt alsotook issue with the "express lane" provision of the bill, which wouldallow applicants who qualify for programs with similar eligibilityrequirements, such as school lunch subsidies, to enroll in SCHIP. "Thiswhole thing is designed in a way to make qualification almostautomatic, to make the ability to monitor it almost impossible, andpenalties nonexistent," Leavitt said (CQ Today, 11/5).
Leavittdeclined to say whether that level is sufficient, adding that theadministration "just want[s] a rigorous standard." Leavitt said thatthe bill's sponsors want to "blow the doors off eligibility in veryclever and hard-to-see ways." The SCHIP bill "is about creating asystem where the federal government insures everybody," Leavitt said,adding, "It's wrapped in the cloak of children, but this is a veryserious policy debate that's unfolding" (CongressDaily, 11/6). SCHIP negotiators plan to meet again on Tuesday (CQ Today, 11/5).
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) on Monday in a letter circulated to the House Democratic Caucus said that internal DCCC polling shows Democratic challengers are gaining an electoral advantage because of the SCHIP debate, Roll Callreports. Van Hollen said that Republicans who voted against the SCHIPproposal might lose votes to their Democratic challengers.
"Lastweek we saw the latest evidence that our fight to provide healthcoverage to 10 million children through SCHIP is continuing to resonatewith the American people -- especially in key congressional districts,"Van Hollen wrote, adding, "As (DCCC poll) findings confirm, vulnerableRepublicans who continue to vote in lock step with George Bush againstSCHIP will be held accountable by their constituents."
The National Republican Congressional Committeesaid that Van Hollen's claims are baseless and misleading, and notedthat the polls show Democrats only are interested in using SCHIPreauthorization as a political weapon (Drucker, Roll Call, 11/6).
Dow Joneson Monday examined how although Bush "has complained about adultsreceiving" SCHIP coverage, it was the Bush administration that "grantedthe majority of current waivers that enable states to enroll parents"in the program, and "it has approved every one of the waivers thatenable the enrollment of childless adults." Eleven states currentlyprovide SCHIP benefits to adults, eight of which were approved duringBush's term. In 2006, about 700,000 SCHIP beneficiaries were adults;500,000 of those beneficiaries were parents of children enrolled in theprogram and the rest were childless adults. Childless adults were ableto enroll in the program beginning in 2001, after the Bushadministration implemented the Health Insurance Flexibility andAccountability initiative.
In July 2006, then-CMSAdministrator Mark McClellan said, "Extending coverage to parents andcaretaker relatives not only serves to cover additional uninsuredindividuals, but it may also increase the likelihood that they willtake the steps necessary to enroll their children." However, WhiteHouse spokesperson Tony Fratto said that the administration was "alwayscautious" about allowing adults to enroll in SCHIP. Fratto said thatthe administration "listened to the request from states for greaterflexibility in administering their state plans for SCHIP," adding,"They argued that adding adults would result in more children beingadded. This experiment obviously failed and should not be extended"(Mantell, Dow Jones, 11/5).
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