House Republicans To Offer Final Proposal for Kids’ Health Bill
House Republicans on Thursday will present Senate negotiators with their final proposal for legislation that would reauthorize and expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program as lawmakers continue last-minute negotiations, CongressDaily reports.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and other committee sponsors on Wednesday gave House Republicans an "offer" for the bill, which they hope will gain enough Republican support to override a presidential veto.
Baucus said, "It covers all the issues. And we wrote it in a way that we think, basically, is close to where we can reach an agreement. It positions us about as far as we can go." Baucus' bill "has the support" of congressional Democrats, but it is "unclear" if the Republican response to the offer will be acceptable to Democrats or whether a broader group of Republicans will support the measure, according to CongressDaily.
A House Republican leadership aide said that party leaders' concerns -- emphasizing coverage for low-income children, adult coverage and proof-of-citizenship requirements -- were not addressed in the proposed bill. Baucus said the burden is on the GOP to create a unified position on the bill.
"They have to get themselves together and present one document. They come back with one document, one position, not different positions, but one organized House Republican position," Baucus said. He added that if lawmakers do not reach an agreement, discussions "will carry over until after recess."
Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said, "There's a consensus that we get this done [Thursday] or we just kind of confide to each other that we can't," adding, "We're getting finality, one way or another" (Johnson, CongressDaily, 11/15).
According to The Politico, if no compromise is reached, Democrats might send the current SCHIP bill to President Bush as early as Thursday for another veto. If lawmakers fail to reach an agreement by mid-December, Democrats might propose a temporary extension of the program through Sept. 30, 2008, a move that "would force a vote on a critical issue just before the election," according to Democratic aides, The Politico reports (Kady, The Politico, 11/15).
Forty-five House Republicans who have voted in favor of the SCHIP bill on Wednesday sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) asking them to ensure that any bill that emerges from the discussion will be thoroughly vetted by lawmakers before it moves to the floor for a vote. The letter states, "We hope that members who have not been invited to participate in this informal process will be kept fully apprised of any substantive changes that may be adopted."
Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) said the letter was a reminder to Democratic leaders not to ignore Republicans who voted in favor of the expansion from the beginning (CongressDaily, 11/15).
Meanwhile, eight Democratic senators this week sent a letter to Pelosi and Hoyer warning that they would not support any SCHIP bill that does not "protect state flexibility to cover parents." The letter states, "Our states have taken the lead to provide health care to this specific population, and we do not want to inhibit their ability to continue providing this important coverage."
The letter was signed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Robert Menendez (N.J.), Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Russ Feingold (Wis.) and Herb Kohl (Wis.). The senators in the letter warned congressional leaders against "further compromise," saying it would erode their support of the legislation (Pear, New York Times, 11/15).
The tobacco industry "has spent millions on lobbyists and campaign contributions in Washington while attempting to stoke grassroots opposition to the tax increase" proposed in the SCHIP bill, CQ Today reports. However, "only President Bush's stubborn opposition to a version of the legislation that would cost more than his own proposal has spared tobacco interests an ignominious defeat," according to CQ Today.
Philip Morris USA spokesperson Bill Phelps said that the company's opposition to the tax increase was based on more than the bottom line. "We think it's unfair to adults who smoke and it's unfair to retailers who sell tobacco," Phelps said, adding that it does not make sense to fund a growing expense with a declining source of revenue.
Steve Weiss, spokesperson for the American Cancer Society, said, "Really, the choice here is about protecting the tobacco industry or saving 900,000 lives, while insuring four million additional children" (Wayne, CQ Today, 11/14).