House OKs Kids’ Health Bill, Lacks Votes To Overturn Veto
The House on Tuesday voted 265-159 to approve compromise legislation that would reauthorize the State Children's Health Insurance Program and expand enrollment from 6.6 million children to about 10 million children, USA Today reports (Wolf, USA Today, 9/26).
Forty-five Republicans voted to approve the bill and eight Democrats voted against it (AP/Wall Street Journal, 9/26).
The compromise bill, which resembles the Senate version of SCHIP legislation, would provide an additional $35 billion in funding over the next five years and bring total spending on the program to $60 billion. The additional funding would be paid for by a 61-cent-per-pack increase in the tobacco tax, as proposed in the Senate version. The compromise legislation does not include revisions to Medicare. The Senate is expected to vote on the measure later this week (California Healthline, 9/25).
House lawmakers who support the bill "ruefully conceded that they will probably fall short of the 290 votes" needed to override President Bush's veto, according to the Washington Post. "I think it's a heavy lift," Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), who favors the legislation, said on Tuesday (Lee/Weisman, Washington Post, 9/26).
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said that he is unsure how the House will respond to the expected veto. "We'll have to figure that out. Our interest is to cover at least 10 million children," Hoyer said. Democrats have included a $5 billion extension of the program in a stopgap spending measure that was introduced in the chamber on Tuesday, with a vote expected on the bill Wednesday. The extension would continue to fund the program at its current level until Nov. 16 (Dennis, Roll Call, 9/25).
Supporters and opponents of the bill "have dug in" to their positions, with both sides during the day "lobb[ing] rhetorical strikes, each accusing the other of playing politics with children's health," according to the Post. Moderate Republicans "openly fretted" on Tuesday that Bush "had made the House GOP its firewall, to their political detriment," the Post reports. Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) said, "I'm a little baffled as to why the Bush people picked this issue to fight it out on," adding, "It's very sensitive. It's about kids. Who's against kids' health care?"
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said that he will make sure Republicans who voted against the measure will pay politically for their vote and that the political price might keep growing. Van Hollen said that Democrats should keep sending the bill to Bush until he signs it (Lee/Weisman, Washington Post, 9/26).
However, House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said, "The longer this bill is out there, the more problems people will find in it" (Roll Call, 9/25). Republican leaders on Tuesday only requested enough Republican support to sustain a veto, which allowed Republicans to support the measure if they felt it was important to their constituents and re-election prospects, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Hardin, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 9/26).
Republicans on Tuesday objected to a measure of the compromise bill that would relaxed a provision of the Medicaid proof-of-citizenship law to allow states to determine citizenship by checking a Social Security number against the Social Security Administration, CQ Today reports. SSA Secretary Michael Astrue said that such a system could not reliably verify citizenship.
However, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that the current law "has caused a bureaucratic nightmare for some states that is keeping Americans from getting coverage." Grassley continued, "The overheated and misleading rhetoric from opponents of this children's health reauthorization bill is nothing more than a desperate attempt to divert your attention from voting for a children's health bill" (Wayne, CQ Today, 9/25).
Pelosi on Tuesday told members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that she would use other legislative vehicles to ensure that documented immigrants are eligible to receive benefits under Medicaid and SCHIP, caucus Chair Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) said after a private meeting, CongressDaily reports. The caucus had threatened to oppose the SCHIP compromise bill because it lacks provisions that provide coverage for documented immigrants that were present in the House version of the bill.
Baca said, "I think we got a good commitment from" Pelosi, adding, "If we hadn't gotten the commitment, you probably would see a lot of 'no' votes." Pelosi said she personally supports allowing documented immigrants to receive benefits under the programs but that the "rationale is what can pass in the United States Senate" (Johnson, CongressDaily, 9/25).
House Democratic leaders on Tuesday held a press conference to warn Bush against vetoing the compromise bill, the Post reports.
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) at the conference said, "The problem, I think, for President Bush is that he doesn't personalize what's going on here," adding, "You are here today, and when we can actually give examples of how people are helped by SCHIP, then I don't know how anybody can say that they don't want to sign a bill." Wilson pleaded with other Republicans to not "let the perfect be the enemy of the good" (Milbank, Washington Post, 9/26).
Pelosi said, "This legislation will haunt [Bush] again and again and again. It's not going away, because the children are not going away." She added that to help override the veto, advocates are "hoping to galvanize support of the American people for this legislation. The president will find himself alone" (Pear, New York Times, 9/26). "We will continue to work in a bipartisan fashion to put bills on the president's desk and see how long he can hold a veto-proof majority," Pelosi said (Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times, 9/26).
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said that the bill was a vote on socialized medicine, adding, "The most that can be said for it is that it does have money in it for the children of America" (Milbank, Washington Post, 9/26).
Bush in a statement of administration policy said, "The bill goes too far toward federalizing health care and turns a program meant to help low-income children into one that covers children in some households with incomes of up to $83,000 a year." The White House said it would be "next to impossible" under the bill for federal officials to deny a state's request for a waiver to expand its program (New York Times, 9/26).
White House press secretary Dana Perino after the vote in a statement said, "Unfortunately, the House of Representatives today passed SCHIP legislation that pushes many children who now have private coverage into a government-run system, part of the Democrats' incremental plan toward government-run health care for all Americans" (Schneider, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 9/26).
The vote on Tuesday "ensures that lawmakers will confront the [SCHIP] issue again before Congress adjourns this year if President Bush follows through on his promise to veto the measure," CongressDaily reports. According to CongressDaily, "Republicans are calling for more negotiation, but it is unlikely either side will budge."
House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Jim McCrery (R-La.) said, "That's the whole point of sustaining the veto, to get us a seat in the room" (Johnson, CongressDaily, 9/26). Pelosi said that bill supporters will continue to lobby for the measure and hope that the increasing political pressure will garner more Republican support and force Bush to sign the measure (Pugh, Miami Herald, 9/26).
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said that the expense of the bill, or whether it leads to socialized medicine, is irrelevant. When lawmakers return to their home districts, "the question is, 'Were you with the kids or were you not?'" (Babington, AP/Houston Chronicle, 9/25).
Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on Tuesday said that Bush's veto threat was an unacceptable reminder "that we must change the way Washington works and finally put the people's interest ahead of the special interests," adding, "In the richest nation on Earth we must no longer stand by while nine million children live without health care" (Shideler, Wichita Eagle, 9/26).
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair John Dingell (D-Mich.) said, "We are within shouting distance" of reauthorizing the program, adding, "I wouldn't want to be the guy that vetoes this bill" and "I would not want to be the guy that supports the fellow who did veto the bill" (Wayne, CQ Today, 9/25).
Boehner said, "Using this critical program to provide government benefits to adults, illegal immigrants and upper-income families who can afford private health insurance is bad policy" (Roll Call, 9/25). He continued, "Federal funds targeted for low-income children should benefit low-income children. Period," adding, "The children this program is intended to serve deserve better, as do American taxpayers" (Lengell, Washington Times, 9/26).
Chief Deputy Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said, "This is a defining vote for Republicans. You are either for or against health care directed by the Washington bureaucracy." Republican leadership also complained that members, who received the bill Monday night, did not have adequate time to read the 299-page bill in its entirety (Ota/Epstein, CQ Today, 9/25).
Four broadcast programs reported on the compromise bill. Summaries appear below.
- ABC News: ABC News video of the press conference with Pelosi (D-Calif.) and expanded ABC News coverage are available online (ABCNews.com, 9/25).
- C-SPAN's "Washington Journal": The segment includes discussions with HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt and Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack ("Washington Journal," C-SPAN, 9/25). Video of the discussion with Leavitt is available online. Video of the discussion with Pollack also is available online.
- NPR's "Morning Edition": The segment includes comments from Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Pete Sessions (R-Texas), Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) and Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) (Rovner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 9/26). Audio of the segment is available online.
- KPCC's "Patt Morrison": The segment includes a discussion with Len Nichols, director of the New America Foundation's Health Policy Program; Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute; and Lesley Cummings, executive director of the California Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board (Morrison, "Patt Morrison," KPCC, 9/25). Audio of the segment is available online.