Grassley Calls for Preconference on Kids’ Health Insurance Bill
Senate Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) during the August recess would like to begin preconference committee talks with the House on the State Children's Health Insurance Program reauthorization and expansion legislation, according to an aide, CongressDaily reports (Johnson, CongressDaily, 8/3).
The Senate legislation, approved on Thursday, would reauthorize SCHIP and increase the federal cigarette tax by 61 cents per pack to boost funding for the program by $35 billion over five years. The House version, approved on Wednesday, would reduce payments to Medicare Advantage plans and increase the federal cigarette tax by 45 cents per pack to increase funding for SCHIP by $50 billion over five years. The House bill also would make a number of revisions to Medicare (California Healthline, 8/3).
Grassley wants a preconference committee to assure Republicans "about the size and scope of the conference product," according to the aide.
Senate Republicans might block a conference committee until they have assurances that the conference bill will resemble the Senate SCHIP bill, Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said. Lott added that the veto-proof 68-31 vote for SCHIP legislation in the Senate puts that chamber in a stronger position to reduce the size of the House bill. President Bush has threatened to veto both bills.
Lott said that if the conference report "goes one iota beyond" the provisions of the Senate bill, Republicans will withdraw their support and the Senate will not be able to override a veto (CongressDaily, 8/3).
A provision of the House SCHIP legislation, which was approved on Wednesday, permanently would eliminate a penalty for low-income elderly people who miss the Dec. 31 enrollment deadline for the Medicare prescription drug benefit, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
The provision, sponsored by Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), would eliminate a 1% increase in premium costs that accumulates monthly after the deadline until the person enrolls in a drug plan. The measure would apply to beneficiaries with incomes less than 150% of the federal poverty level (Sherman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/4).
The New York Times on Sunday examined how the "scale of government's role" in providing health care coverage "remains a source of deep conflict for many Americans," as evidenced by the debate over SCHIP.
With primaries for the 2008 presidential election approaching, "candidates are talking to the most partisan audiences, the activists likely to vote in the primaries and caucuses," according to the Times.
Republicans "are focused on conservatives who long for a return to the small-government, reduced-spending philosophy that many of them believe was abandoned," while Democrats "are talking to liberals who have hungered for a big universal health care program and a return to activist government," the Times reports (Toner, New York Times, 8/5).
- Robert Novak, Chicago Sun-Times: Republican votes for SCHIP legislation suggest the party "has wandered on tax policy," columnist Novak writes in a Sun-Times opinion piece. According to Novak, debate over an amendment introduced by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) that would "balance tax increases with a refundable tax credit for lower bracket taxpayers ... reflects not only a failed Republican reaction to big government but also a weakening of GOP resolve to hold down taxes." In addition, approval of the legislation indicates that Democrats "have figured out how to market a government-financed plan," Novak writes (Novak, Chicago Sun-Times, 8/6).
Washington Post: "One of the most disappointing recent developments has been the [Bush] administration's apparent decision ... that there was not much to be gained from working with this Congress -- and something to be gained by taking it on," according to a Post editorial. The editorial continues, "This new belligerence has manifested itself in a blizzard of veto threats -- Democrats counted up 31 between May 1 and Aug. 1 -- the most regrettable of which involves the children's health insurance bill" (Washington Post, 8/5).
- David Broder, Washington Post: "No rational human being could explain why a program that both parties support and both want to continue could ignite such a fight," Post columnist Broder writes in an opinion piece. When Congress "had an opportunity to take a relatively simple, incremental step to extend health insurance to a vulnerable group, the members managed to make a mess of it," Broder continues, concluding, "It's no wonder the approval ratings of Congress are so dismal" (Broder, Washington Post, 8/5).
Several broadcast programs recently reported on SCHIP. Summaries appear below.
- KPCC's "AirTalk": The segment includes a discussion with Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) and John Campbell (R-Calif.) (Mantle, "AirTalk," KPCC, 8/3). Audio of the segment is available online.
- MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews": The segment includes a discussion with Carrie Lukas, vice president for policy and economics at the Independent Women's Forum, and Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women and Families (Matthews, "Hardball with Chris Matthews," MSNBC, 8/3). Video of the segment is available online.
- NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday": The segment includes comments from Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.); Cindy Mann, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families; Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.); Donna Cohen Ross, director of outreach for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; and Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) (Rovner, "Weekend Edition Sunday," NPR, 8/5). Audio of the segment is available online.
- PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer": The segment includes a discussion with syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks about SCHIP and other issues (Lehrer, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 8/3). Audio and a transcript of the segment are available online. Video will be available Monday afternoon.