Kids’ Health Insurance Bill Clears Hurdle as Negotiations Continue
The Senate on Wednesday cleared a procedural hurdle for revised legislation (HR 3963) that would reauthorize and expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, voting 62-33 to invoke cloture, the New York Times reports (Pear, New York Times, 11/1).
The legislation -- which is similar to the bill vetoed by President Bush earlier this month -- would expand SCHIP to cover 10 million children and increase spending on the program to $35 billion over five years, funded with a 61-cent-per-pack increase in the federal cigarette tax. The bill would limit coverage to children in families with annual incomes below 300% of the federal poverty level. The House last week failed to pass the revised bill with a veto-proof majority (California Healthline, 10/31).
The cloture vote needed 60 votes in favor to pass. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Kit Bond (R-Mo.), two Republicans who voted in favor of SCHIP legislation in the past, voted against the measure. Hutchison said she issued her vote to demonstrate her objection to Democrats' refusal to compromise with the White House, adding that she will vote in favor when the legislation comes to a final vote (Mittelstadt, Houston Chronicle, 11/1).
The next vote on the bill, a motion to call up the House-passed bill, will occur at 1 a.m. on Friday unless Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can reach an agreement to hold the vote at another time, Reid said. The vote on the bill will occur "well into next week," according to CQ Today (Wayne , CQ Today, 10/31).
Senate and House leaders continued closed-door discussions on a possible compromise amendment to be added to the bill.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said that he and other lawmakers who attended the meetings expect to know by Thursday afternoon if they will be able to reach a compromise (Wayne , CQ Today, 10/31). Baucus said, "Frankly, there's an agreement on $35 billion, covering more kids," and "tobacco taxes haven't come up" as a contentious issue for House Republicans. He added, "We've basically agreed in concept, generally -- I don't want to say specifically -- on most matters."
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) indicated that the talks were not close to concluding.
Lawmakers have "only a few days to craft an amendment that could win over enough House Republicans to override an expected veto," CongressDaily reports (Johnson, CongressDaily, 11/1).
Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and McConnell criticized negotiators for not including Senate Republican leadership in the meetings with Senate Finance Committee members and House Republican leadership.
Grassley responded, "It makes no sense to negotiate with members who are trying to kill the bill" (Young, The Hill, 11/1).
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) are participating in the talks with Senate leadership, "even though it is unlikely either of them will vote for a bill that raises taxes," according to the AP/Contra Costa Times.
Boehner and Blunt presented a proposal that would require a 90% enrollment rate for children in families with annual incomes less than 200% of the poverty level before states can expand eligibility to higher income levels.
The proposal also would require that all adults, except for pregnant women, be shifted from SCHIP to Medicaid starting Oct. 1, 2008. In addition, the proposal would limit eligibility to families with assets of less than $1 million and would require those seeking to enroll to provide a birth certificate as proof of U.S. citizenship.
The proposal does not mention the tobacco tax increase (Espo, AP/Contra Costa Times, 10/31).
Although House Republicans attending the meetings do not make up the 12-15 additional votes needed to override a veto, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said that he thinks the lawmakers could persuade others to vote for the bill. If Senate and House negotiators agree on substantive changes, then the changes will need to be vetted through House and Senate leadership to ensure that no Democratic support is lost, according to CongressDaily (CongressDaily, 11/1).
The White House on Wednesday in a statement of administration policy said that Bush would veto the bill "if it is presented to him without significant changes," CQ Today reports (Wayne , CQ Today, 10/31).
Bush said that the bill "fails to cover poor children first" and "shifts children with private insurance onto the government rolls, and it uses taxpayers' dollars to subsidize middle-class families, and finally, it raises taxes" (New York Times, 11/1).
In a speech on Wednesday to the Grocery Manufacturers Association/Food Products Association, Bush's "aggressive" tone "had the appearance of throwing down a political gauntlet," according to the AP/Boston Herald (AP/Boston Herald, 10/31).
Grassley on Wednesday said that the White House is "throwing cold water in [his] face" by objecting to the SCHIP bill because it uses a cigarette tax increase as a funding mechanism, the Des Moines Register reports. Grassley said that "this is the first time it's come to my attention that this tax issue is an issue with the White House."
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt has met with lawmakers several times to review White House objections to the bill and has never mentioned an objection to the cigarette tax, according to Grassley. As lawmakers get closer to reaching an agreement on the bill, Bush "comes up with another item" to object, Grassley said (Norman, Des Moines Register, 11/1).
Reid also criticized Bush for appearing to alter his reason for objecting to the SCHIP bill, noting that in his speech on Wednesday, Bush indicated that the tobacco tax was his primary reason for vetoing the bill. Previously, Bush objected to the bill for its eligibility standards, Reid said (Wayne , CQ Today, 10/31).
In related news, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will launch its fourth advertising buy against seven politically vulnerable Republicans who oppose SCHIP, the Washington Times reports.
DCCC Chair Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said, "Across the country, Republicans are feeling the heat for supporting President Bush instead of the health care for America's kids."
The ads target Reps. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), Richard Baker (R-La.), Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.), Ric Keller (R-Fla.), Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.) and Peter Roskam (R-Ill.).
National Republican Congressional Committee spokesperson Julie Shutley said, "You'd think that if Democrats have the time for a fourth round of attack ads on this, they'd have time to come to the table for a compromise." Shutley said that GOP members who voted against the bill have done a "good job" of explaining their vote to constituents (Pfeiffer, Washington Times, 11/1).
The Hill on Thursday examined how there "have been few words spoken in this congressional session that have caused as much emotional rhetoric as 'illegal immigration' -- which is exactly why Republican leaders have made sure they stay front and center," including in the debate over SCHIP.
Republican Study Committee Chair Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) said that Democrats are pursuing a strategy to extend more government benefits to undocumented immigrants. Hensarling said, "Whether it be for housing benefits and agriculture appropriations, or whether it be in SCHIP, what we see is language to make it easier for illegal immigrants to access these benefits."
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said that Republicans use the immigration argument because they know it is inflammatory, adding that the House-passed SCHIP bill does not extend benefits to undocumented immigrants (Kucinich, The Hill, 11/1).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Thursday reported on Bush's speech on Wednesday. The segment includes comments from Bush; Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.); Kirsten Figueroa, deputy commissioner for finance in the Maine Department of Health and Human Services; Kevin Concannon, director of the Iowa Department of Human Services; and Rhonda Meadows, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Health (Rovner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 11/1). Audio and a partial transcript are available online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.