President Bush Vows To Veto Kids’ Health Insurance Bill
President Bush in a news conference on Thursday promised to veto compromise legislation that would reauthorize and expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, calling the proposed expansion a step toward "government-run health care for every American," USA Today reports (Jackson, USA Today, 9/21).
A draft compromise bill, announced on Sunday, reportedly closely resembles the Senate version of SCHIP legislation, which would provide an additional $35 billion in funding over the next five years and bring total spending on the program to $60 billion. The additional funding would be paid for by an increase in the tobacco tax, which would be similar to the 61-cent-per-pack tax proposed in the Senate version. The compromise bill does not include revisions to Medicare (California Healthline, 9/20).
Bush has proposed an additional $5 billion for SCHIP over five years (USA Today, 9/21). Bush said, "I believe this is a step toward federalization of health care," adding that Congress' proposal "is beyond the scope of the program, and that's why I'm going to veto the bill" (Silva, Chicago Tribune, 9/21).
Bush urged Congress to pass a "clean, temporary extension" of the program (Stolberg, New York Times, 9/21).
He said that while he and Congress work out the issues with the reauthorization, Congress "has an obligation to make sure health insurance for poor children does not lapse" (Schor, The Hill, 9/21).
Bush said that if Democrats do not pass an extension of the program, "more than a million children could lose health coverage," and "coverage for these children should not be held hostage while political ads are being made and new polls are being taken" (Freking, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/21).
Bush said, "Instead of working with the administration to enact this funding increase for children's health, Democrats in Congress have decided to pass a bill that they know will be vetoed" (Chicago Tribune, 9/21). He added, "Members of Congress are putting health coverage for poor children at risk so they score political points in Washington" (USA Today, 9/21).
Bush said, "Democratic leaders in Congress want to put more power in the hands of government by expanding federal health care programs," adding, "I have a different view. I believe the best approach is to put more power in the hands of individuals by empowering people and their doctors to make health care decisions that are right for them."
The federal government "should work to make basic private health insurance affordable and accessible for all Americans," Bush said (Ward, Washington Times, 9/21). Bush added that the compromise bill would "raise taxes on working people."
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said that Democrats lack sufficient support to sustain a veto (USA Today, 9/21).
Bush's comments on Thursday "set off a storm of complaint not only from Democrats on Capitol Hill, but also from some Republicans," according to the Los Angeles Times.
Senate Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who helped to draft the Senate version of the bill, said that the president's proposal for SCHIP is insufficient "to accomplish what he said he wants to do, and that's cover more kids" (Gerstenzang, Los Angeles Times, 9/21). He added, "The White House must recognize that bipartisan compromise is necessary" to continue the program (USA Today, 9/21). Grassley said, "Drawing lines in the sand at this stage isn't constructive. I wish he'd engage Congress in a bill that he could sign instead of threatening a veto, and I hope he'll still do that" (New York Times, 9/21).
Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) in a statement said, "The president may be willing to cut off health care for low-income kids, but here in the Congress, we will not" (The Hill, 9/21). An extension of the program would "kick kids out of doctors' offices all across the country," Baucus added (USA Today, 9/21).
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that an extension would lead to fewer children enrolled in SCHIP. She said, "I don't know what the point is of an extension. So that we can have this conversation again and have another extension? The moment of truth is now" (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/21).
Some Republicans on Thursday "reacted angrily" to Bush's statements, "raising the likelihood of significant GOP defections when the package comes to a vote next week," the Washington Post reports (Lee/Weisman, Washington Post, 9/21).
According to the Wall Street Journal, many Republicans "worry about the potential political fallout from voting against health insurance for children." Grassley said that "political problems" would result from repeated extensions of the program for a few months at a time (McKinnon/Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 9/21).
Grassley, who called Bush on Thursday to persuade him against a veto threat, said that he is "disappointed" in the president's decision (Norman, Des Moines Register, 9/21). He added that Bush "has been served wrong information about what our bill would do," noting that Bush said it would provide health care coverage for children in families with annual incomes up to $83,000, which lawmakers say is not true (Wayne, CQ Today, 9/20).
Grassley said Bush's comments indicate a "miserable lack of understanding of what we're doing and even what his own administration has done" (Koffler/Johnson, CongressDaily, 9/20).
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said he is "hopeful that [Bush] will recognize how hard we fought to keep this within reason" (Canham/Stewart, Salt Lake Tribune, 9/21). When asked if he would vote to override a veto, Hatch said, "You bet your sweet bippy I will" (Washington Post, 9/21).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, "President Bush -- who ran on the promise to enroll millions of more children in [S]CHIP -- is going back on his word and irresponsibly threatening to deny kids in working families the care they need" (Cox/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 9/21).
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said, "The question before the president really comes down to this: Will you stand with American children who through no fault of their own are uninsured, or will you go back on your own campaign promise and deny them coverage?" (Washington Times, 9/21).
Democratic Caucus Chair Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said, "Health care on the domestic side is what Iraq is on the foreign policy side. It is a top issue," adding, "When you veto it, you own it" (Chicago Tribune, 9/21).
In related news, House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health Chair Pete Stark (D-Calif.) on Thursday sent a letter to other Democratic House members that said excluding revisions to Medicare from the SCHIP reauthorization bill could threaten the passage of those changes, CongressDaily reports.
The revisions -- which included increased financial assistance for low-income seniors, improved preventive health benefits and a reversal of a scheduled cut to physician reimbursement fees -- were eliminated "for political and/or rhetorical reasons that are unclear to me," Stark wrote.
"I'm sure there was no intention to betray the trust you placed in our committee," Stark wrote, adding that the House bill had the support of several advocacy groups, including AARP, the American Medical Association, Families USA and the American Hospital Association. He continued, "I want to assure you and them that I had no part in backing away from my commitment to you in requesting your support."
Stark said he would ask Democratic leaders to retain the Medicare provisions in the SCHIP bill if the compromise measure is vetoed by Bush. "The bill is still there. If we don't override, which we probably will not, then we're back to where we were," Stark said. He added that he does not understand Democrats' drive to force a veto by Bush, calling it "unnecessarily divisive."
Pelosi defended the decision to split the bills, adding, "I will never, as I said to my caucus, confine the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the American people to what we can pass legislatively on any given day of the week. It is called the legislative process. We will do it in two stages instead of one" (Johnson, CongressDaily, 9/21).
Wall Street Journal: "What happens next" with SCHIP "will demonstrate whether the beleaguered ... Bush has any hope of getting his party to toe the fiscal line in upcoming spending battles, and by consequence, whether Republicans have any hope of restoring their fiscal credibility with voters," according to a Journal editorial. The editorial concludes that conservative "voters will see the bigger test of re-found fiscal responsibility in whether its Washington representatives are willing to say no to big new government spending," which "begins with SCHIP" (Wall Street Journal, 9/21).
- Washington Post: Bush's argument against the compromise bill "would be more credible if the president were proposing a renewal of SCHIP that would at least maintain" the program, according to a Post editorial. However, the Congressional Budget Office has said Bush's SCHIP proposal "would fall short of what's needed simply to keep pace with current enrollment levels," according to the editorial. It concludes, "The administration argues that the solution is to make private insurance more affordable. A worthy goal. But what are the children supposed to do for health care in the meantime?" (Washington Post, 9/21).
- Gary Galles, San Diego Union-Tribune: Expanding eligibility for SCHIP "would cause a substantial amount of 'crowding out'" for people who already had private health insurance, a move that would not "advance[e] SCHIP's supposed rationale," Galles, an economics professor at Pepperdine University, writes in a Union-Tribune opinion piece. Moreover, funding the proposed expansion by increasing already regressive tobacco taxes would "take a larger proportion of income from lower-income people than others," Galles writes (Galles, San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/21).
- Reginald Gary/Jeremy Kaercher, San Diego Union-Tribune: Compromise legislation to reauthorize SCHIP "represents a significant step forward for children" even if it "falls short of what voters want:" universal coverage for children, Gary, senior pastor at the New Creation Church, and Kaercher, co-chair of the San Diego Organizing Project, write in a Union-Tribune opinion piece. Congress can avoid conflict with President Bush on this issue if House Republicans "join with their colleagues in the Senate in supporting the SCHIP compromise," thereby forcing the president to "back down" (Gary/Kaercher, San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/21).
C-SPAN video of comments by Bush and Leavitt on SCHIP is available online.
C-SPAN video of comments by Pelosi in response to Bush's remarks also is available online (C-SPAN, 9/20).
In addition, CNN video of comments from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) on Bush's veto threat is available online (Yellin, CNN, 9/20).
Four broadcast programs on Thursday also reported on the SCHIP debate. Summaries appear below.
- ABC's "World News": The segment includes comments from Bush and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) (Raddatz, "World News," ABC, 9/20). A video excerpt of Schwarzenegger's comments is available online.
- American Public Media's "Marketplace": The segment includes comments from Pelosi; Maria Ghazal, director of public policy for the Business Roundtable; Dennis Smith, director of the Center for Medicaid and State Operations; and Janet Trautwein, executive vice president and CEO of the National Association of Health Underwriters (Dimsdale, "Marketplace," American Public Media, 9/20). Audio and a transcript of the segment are available online.
- CBS' "Evening News": The segment includes comments from Bush and Pelosi (Axelrod, "Evening News," CBS, 9/20). Video of the segment is available online.
- CNN's "The Situation Room": The segment includes comments from House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio); Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.); Pelosi; and Clinton (Yellin, "The Situation Room," CNN, 9/20). A transcript of the segment is available online.