Kids’ Health Talks Continue as House GOP Offers New Revisions
Senate and House negotiators this week will continue discussions to craft a State Children's Health Insurance Program bill that would receive enough support in the House to override a presidential veto, CQ Today reports. However, language proposed by House Republican leadership "reveals just how daunting" reaching compromise might be, according to CQ Today (Armstrong, CQ Today, 11/2).
The Senate last week voted 64-30 to approve revised SCHIP legislation (HR 3963) that would expand the program 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 measure is similar to the bill vetoed by President Bush last month, but it would limit coverage to children in families with annual incomes below 300% of the federal poverty level. The House last month approved the bill but failed to pass it with a veto-proof majority (California Healthline, 11/2).
The language proposed by House Republican leadership would require that all states enroll 90% of children in families with annual incomes less than 200% of the poverty level before enrolling higher-income children. In addition, the Republican language would require stricter guidelines for proving citizenship by requiring the adoption of current Medicaid regulations.
According to a GOP aide, the language was a starting point for negotiations and lawmakers have moved forward since it was delivered. Both Senate negotiators and House Republicans "seem eager to reach a deal and avoid the likely alternative"" passing a temporary extension of the program that will expire directly prior to the 2008 elections, CQ Today reports (CQ Today, 11/2).
The SCHIP debate "symbolizes the inability of Mr. Bush and the new Democratic leaders of Congress to work together, but it also highlights the rift between Mr. Bush and members of his own party," the New York Times reports.
According to the Times, "misconceptions and frustrations on both sides" led to the veto of the bill (Pear, New York Times, 11/5). However, Democrats are "expressing increasing confidence" that their emphasis on SCHIP "has succeeded in putting health care on the national agenda," the Boston Globe reports.
Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin, president of Peter D. Hart Research Associates, said, "Everything I'm seeing in terms of public opinion is that voters feel good that Democrats are taking on this fight. It's the president who is perceived as being mule-headed and stubborn."
Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard School of Public Health, said that "what has happened with the Democrats fighting for [SCHIP], and the president attacking it, is that it's become a poster child for the broader debate on whether government should guarantee coverage for people" (Donnelly, Boston Globe, 11/5).
Bush's refusal to sign any legislation that calls for a tax increase "could lead to the awkward scene of a large number of congressional Republicans voting to override his veto of a high-profile bid to expand" SCHIP, the AP/San Jose Mercury News reports. Many House Republicans "have agreed to swallow" the tax increase, and the issue "is so settled that it isn't even discussed by House-Senate negotiators" trying to craft a new bipartisan bill, the AP/Mercury News reports.
According to the AP/Mercury News, Bush's stand on SCHIP puts House Republican leaders "in a tough spot" because changes to the bill could attract enough support from House members to override a veto. If lawmakers can negotiate a veto-proof bill, "it would mark a rare legislative defeat for Bush on a major issue," the AP/Mercury News reports (Babington, AP/Mercury News, 11/5).
Proof-of-citizenship requirements for SCHIP have "become a major hang-up delaying renewal" of the program, the Omaha World-Herald reports.
Republicans claim that the bill as written would allow undocumented immigrants to receive SCHIP benefits, but bill supporters say that is untrue and accuse Republicans "of using the immigration issue as political cover," according to the World-Herald. Under the bill, states could verify citizenship of applicants by checking the applicant's Social Security number against Social Security Administration records.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said, "There's absolutely nothing in this bill that would make coverage more easily available for illegal immigrants," adding, "Those who say otherwise believe what they want to believe, not the facts."
Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) said, "Social Security numbers are a dime a dozen on the streets, fraudulent Social Security ID's," adding, "So, the fact that there's no verification allows illegals to obtain the benefit" (Thompson, Omaha World-Herald, 11/5).
"For weeks now, the president and his Congressional allies have charged that the Democrats are unwilling to negotiate a compromise on expanding" SCHIP "because they want to use Republican opposition as a campaign issue," but "it is the Senate's Republican leaders who are doing their best to block any compromise," a New York Times editorial states.
According to the editorial, Senate Republican leaders "clearly would prefer to have no bill enacted -- and provide ammunition for the president's campaign to depict Congress as a failure -- than do anything meaningful to help children." The editorial states, "The efforts to find a compromise are expected to continue, and we can only hope they ultimately bear fruit" (New York Times, 11/4).