Leavitt: Bush Will Veto Any Kids’ Health Bill With Tobacco Tax Hike
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt on Monday met with several House Republicans who are in discussions with a bipartisan group of Senate lawmakers to craft a third version of legislation that would reauthorize and expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, CQ Today reports (Armstrong, CQ Today, 11/5).
Leavitt said the White House is not directly involved in congressional negotiations, adding that the administration is "providing technical assistance." According to Leavitt, President Bush will veto the latest version of SCHIP legislation, as well as any version of the measure that includes a tobacco tax increase. "The president has been very clear that he does not intend, is not willing, to raise taxes and doesn't think it's necessary," Leavitt said (Johnson, CongressDaily, 11/6).
However, CQ Today reports that "[a]ny compromise bill that moves forward will almost certainly include such a tax," and even House Republican leaders "have said the proposed tobacco tax is not an issue for them." Leavitt also took issue with the "express lane" provision of the bill, which would allow applicants who qualify for programs with similar eligibility requirements, such as school lunch subsidies, to enroll in SCHIP. "This whole thing is designed in a way to make qualification almost automatic, to make the ability to monitor it almost impossible, and penalties nonexistent," Leavitt said (CQ Today, 11/5).
Leavitt declined to say whether that level is sufficient, adding that the administration "just want[s] a rigorous standard." Leavitt said that the bill's sponsors want to "blow the doors off eligibility in very clever and hard-to-see ways."
The SCHIP bill "is about creating a system where the federal government insures everybody," Leavitt said, adding, "It's wrapped in the cloak of children, but this is a very serious policy debate that's unfolding" (CongressDaily, 11/6). SCHIP negotiators plan to meet again on Tuesday (CQ Today, 11/5).
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) on Monday in a letter circulated to the House Democratic Caucus said that internal DCCC polling shows Democratic challengers are gaining an electoral advantage because of the SCHIP debate, Roll Call reports. Van Hollen said that Republicans who voted against the SCHIP proposal might lose votes to their Democratic challengers.
"Last week we saw the latest evidence that our fight to provide health coverage to 10 million children through SCHIP is continuing to resonate with the American people -- especially in key congressional districts," Van Hollen wrote, adding, "As (DCCC poll) findings confirm, vulnerable Republicans who continue to vote in lock step with George Bush against SCHIP will be held accountable by their constituents."
The National Republican Congressional Committee said that Van Hollen's claims are baseless and misleading, and noted that the polls show Democrats only are interested in using SCHIP reauthorization as a political weapon (Drucker, Roll Call, 11/6).
Dow Jones on Monday examined how although Bush "has complained about adults receiving" SCHIP coverage, it was the Bush administration that "granted the majority of current waivers that enable states to enroll parents" in the program, and "it has approved every one of the waivers that enable the enrollment of childless adults."
Eleven states currently provide SCHIP benefits to adults, eight of which were approved during Bush's term. In 2006, about 700,000 SCHIP beneficiaries were adults; 500,000 of those beneficiaries were parents of children enrolled in the program and the rest were childless adults. Childless adults were able to enroll in the program beginning in 2001, after the Bush administration implemented the Health Insurance Flexibility and Accountability initiative.
In July 2006, then-CMS Administrator Mark McClellan said, "Extending coverage to parents and caretaker relatives not only serves to cover additional uninsured individuals, but it may also increase the likelihood that they will take the steps necessary to enroll their children."
However, White House spokesperson Tony Fratto said that the administration was "always cautious" about allowing adults to enroll in SCHIP. Fratto said that the administration "listened to the request from states for greater flexibility in administering their state plans for SCHIP," adding, "They argued that adding adults would result in more children being added. This experiment obviously failed and should not be extended" (Mantell, Dow Jones, 11/5).