Lawmakers Mull Future of Kids’ Health Bill if Veto Override Fails
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) on Tuesday said if lawmakers on Thursday are unable to override President Bush's veto of legislation that would reauthorize and expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, he will push to quickly begin negotiations with the administration, the Los Angeles Times reports.
"Assuming we don't override the veto, then I am certainly going to try to bring us all together to see what we can do to resolve this," Hatch said after a Capitol Hill rally urging Republicans to override the veto (Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times, 10/17).
Bush earlier this month vetoed legislation that would have provided an additional $35 billion in funding for the program over the next five years and increased total SCHIP spending to $60 billion. The additional funding would have been paid for by a 61-cent-per-pack increase in the tobacco tax. An override vote in the House is scheduled for Thursday (California Healthline, 10/16).
House Democratic leaders say that they will not consider any SCHIP proposal that covers fewer than 10 million children. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that "no matter what happens" with the veto override vote, "we will continue to fight to insure 10 million children" (Lengell, Washington Times, 10/17).
Many "Democrats say they have already given away too much to come up with a bill acceptable to Hatch and other Republicans" and now would like to "keep sending the congressional bill back to the White House again and again" to "wear down the opposition ... by forcing Republican lawmakers to make politically unpopular votes as the 2008 election approaches," according to the Los Angeles Times.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said, "I would prefer another attempt in March or April of next year to see if we can get the votes for a program closer to what Congress approved." However, the Los Angeles Times reports, that strategy "carries substantial risks ... in terms of politics and policy" because "[r]efusing to compromise could hurt the popular program and boomerang politically," and "[p]rolonged fighting could damage the program because it would almost certainly shatter the bipartisan coalition that has supported it" (Los Angeles Times, 10/17).
The result of the "standoff" between the White House and congressional Democrats is "another chapter in the long-running dispute over the federal government's role in providing health care and an issue for the 2008 campaign," according to USA Today (Jackson, USA Today, 10/17).
When House members on Thursday vote on the bill, Republicans "will insist" that children in families with annual incomes up to $83,000 could qualify for SCHIP under the compromise bill, while Democrats will say that "it is a total distortion for Mr. Bush and his Republican allies to say that the bill allows coverage" up to that level, the New York Times reports. But the bill "does not encourage or prohibit coverage of children with family incomes at that level" and "would give states financial incentives to sign up low-income children who are eligible but not enrolled," according to the New York Times.
According to the New York Times, "Some of the current confusion can be traced back" to legislation introduced in March that would have explicitly allowed coverage of children in families with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level, but that provision was not included in Democrats' compromise bill.
Under the compromise measure, after Oct. 1, 2010, states would not be eligible to receive funds to cover children in families with annual incomes greater than 300% of the poverty level unless the state enrolled a sizable majority of children in families with annual incomes less than 200% of the poverty level. To meet this requirement, a state would need to show that its proportion of low-income children with insurance was at least equal to the average of the 10 states with the highest percentage of low-income children enrolled. In addition, if a state is granted a waiver to cover children in families with annual incomes greater than 300% of the poverty level, the federal match in most cases would be reduced, except for New Jersey and New York if they meet other requirements.
Jocelyn Guyer, a researcher at the Health Policy Institute of Georgetown University, said that the SCHIP income limit level is "a wildly contentious political issue, but it's largely a theoretical question," adding, "More than 99% of children in the program are below three times the poverty level, and New York is the only state that has expressed any interest in going to four times the poverty level" (Pear, New York Times, 10/17).
In related news, lawmakers targeted by an advertising campaign to pressure them to vote to override Bush's veto have responded to the attacks, the Miami Herald reports.
Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Lincoln Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.) on Tuesday in a joint news release responded pre-emptively to a Spanish-language radio ad campaign beginning on Wednesday that will criticize their vote against SCHIP. The lawmakers said they support SCHIP but not the compromise bill. The lawmakers wrote, "It is unfortunate but not surprising that the extreme left is using America's children to play partisan political games" (Clark, Miami Herald, 10/17).
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) responded to a television ad by Americans United for Change by asking Twin Cities TV to stop airing the ad because of factual inaccuracies. The ad says that Bachmann "would rather send half a trillion [dollars] to Iraq than spend a fraction of that here at home to keep our kids healthy," but Bachmann believes this is misleading because 80% of funding for the war was approved prior to her election (Diaz, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 10/16).
Supporters of the SCHIP bill on Tuesday "turned up the heat" on House Republicans that voted against the measure, in hopes of gaining enough votes to override Bush's veto, Reuters reports (Smith, Reuters, 10/16). Supporters on Tuesday night held 275 vigils at local congressional offices around the country.
Advocacy groups such as the Children's Defense Fund and Families USA are distributing talking points to encourage residents to call their lawmakers to speak to them about the issue. Lawmakers held a press conference that included singer Paul Simon to ask Republicans to override the veto (Pugh, McClatchy/Miami Herald, 10/17).
Despite the effort, Democrats "appear short of the two-thirds majority needed" to override the vote, according to CongressDaily (Johnson/Leonatti, CongressDaily, 10/17). At least six House Democrats that voted against the bill have said they will vote to override Bush's veto, but no Republican has announced plans to support the override, according to the AP/Winston-Salem Journal (AP/Winston-Salem Journal, 10/17).
Reps. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.), Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) said that despite pressure from Democratic lawmakers in the state delegation, "We're still not going to vote to override the veto," adding, "We're not into increasing federal entitlements by 30 [billion] to 40 billion dollars" (Barge, Denver Rocky Mountain News, 10/16).
Polling by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee of congressional districts around the country indicated that some "centrist Republicans could pay a political price for voting" to sustain Bush's veto, The Hill reports.
A poll of voters in Missouri found that 42% were "very convinced" to vote against their Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.) after being told that he "voted to keep 10 million kids from getting health insurance, including 100,000 in his own state" while keeping his "government health insurance." Nineteen percent found that argument "somewhat convincing," according to The Hill.
A separate poll of Virginian voters found that opposing the SCHIP reauthorization "raised doubts" about the re-election of incumbent Rep. Thelma Drake (R-Va.). A Democratic campaign strategist said, "Republicans who continue to support President Bush instead of the health care for America's kids will be held accountable," adding, "No issue better crystallizes how out of touch Republicans are with their districts than their opposition to children's health care" (Kaplan/Soraghan, The Hill, 10/17).
The AP/Arizona Republic on Wednesday examined "the claims and counter-claims that have been traded as the House [is] headed toward a showdown vote" on SCHIP.
One claim that Pelosi has made is that states already are preparing to restrict enrollment in SCHIP. The Congressional Research Service estimates that the $5 billion allotted for fiscal year 2008 would provide insufficient funds for 21 states to maintain anticipated enrollment levels. Republicans also say that the program should focus on the lowest-income participants before expanding to children in families with annual incomes up to 400% of the poverty level. However, the bill "essentially sets a ceiling through the use of financial incentive," according to the AP/Republic.
In addition, Republicans have said that SCHIP should not be used to cover adults. The compromise bill would transition childless adults into Medicaid within two years (Freking, AP/Arizona Republic, 10/17).