Senate Majority Leader Seeks To Limit Debate on Kids’ Health
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Friday filed a motion to limit debate on a modified bill that would reauthorize and expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, CQ Today reports (CQ Today, 10/26).
The revised legislation (HR 3963) -- 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 on Thursday approved the measure by a 265-142 vote (California Healthline, 10/26). The Senate could vote on the bill as early as Tuesday (Wayne, CQ Today, 10/26). The chamber first must finish work on a bill reauthorizing money for Amtrak before it can take up the SCHIP bill (CQ Today, 10/26).
According to CQ Today, "What happens now will likely be little more than political theater" because the bill "is expected to pass the Senate with a veto-proof majority; proceed to ... Bush, who has said he will veto it; come back to the House, where an override vote will fail; and join the first two bills on the scrap heap of legislative history" (Wayne, CQ Today, 10/26). Bush said that Senate discussion of modified bill "wastes valuable time" because the House does not have a veto-proof majority (Babington, AP/Wichita Eagle, 10/27).
A group of 36 Republicans on Monday sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) outlining changes to the bill that could persuade Republicans to support the measure. The letter requested that an SCHIP bill include provisions that require states to cover low-income children before covering children in middle-class families; move adults out of the program; and take additional precautions to ensure that families do not drop private coverage to enroll in the program (Wayne, CQ Today, 10/26).
Hoyer and Democratic Caucus Chair Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) on Monday will meet with a group of Republicans "seen as crucial to deciding whether more changes to the bill will give backers the all-important two-thirds majority that eludes them," according to the AP/Wichita Eagle. Rep. Judy Biggert (Ill.) will lead the Republican group, lawmakers said (AP/Wichita Eagle, 10/27).
Meanwhile, how Democrats address the Nov. 16 expiration of the continuing resolution that currently funds the program "will signal how they intend to proceed with SCHIP," according to CQ Today. Passing a short-term extension of the program "would suggest that Democrats still hope to negotiate a permanent expansion of SCHIP with Republicans," while passing a long-term extension -- which could expire directly prior to the 2008 elections -- "would suggest that Democrats have resolved to use children's health insurance as a political weapon," CQ Today reports (Wayne, CQ Today, 10/26).
Democratic Party Chair Howard Dean on Saturday criticized Republicans in Congress for supporting increased funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while vetoing health care for children, the AP/Boston Herald reports.
"The Republican leaders have made their choice," Dean said, adding, "They want to stay in Iraq and deny our kids health care." He continued, "America cannot afford four more years of a president who borrows for the war and denies health insurance for our kids" (AP/Boston Herald, 10/27).
First Lady Laura Bush on Sunday in an interview on Fox News Channel's "Fox News Sunday" defended Bush's veto of the SCHIP bill. Bush called SCHIP "a perfect issue" for Democrats to demagogue on, adding, "It's really easy to blame people for so-called voting against children." Bush said, "The president is very anxious to work with Congress and to come up with something that both he and they can be proud of" (Blake, The Hill, 10/28).
In related news, the AP/Contra Costa Times on Sunday examined "the differences that will probably need to be resolved for Democrats to override a promised veto from Bush," such as states' flexibility in deciding income limits and funding.
According to the AP/Times, about three dozen states ignore certain income when determining eligibility for SCHIP, but the issue of income disregards "has received little attention." That "started to change in last week's debate on the House floor," the AP/Times reports.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said, "You leave it up to the states to say you can't have an income level over 300%" of the poverty level, but "you can deduct $20,000 for a housing allowance or you can deduct $15,000 for shelter or whatever," adding, "So, what you've got here is the classic bait and switch." Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) said that income disregards allow states to ensure that low-income families do not have to resort to welfare to receive health coverage for their children.
Republicans and Democrats also disagree over funding for the expansion. Bush would like to pay for the bill from among recommended new fees and spending cuts worth $96 billion that were included in his budget proposal. The recommendation included higher prescription drug copayments for veterans without disabilities, and increased premiums for Medicare prescription drug plans and physician services for higher-income beneficiaries. However, "most of those proposals generated little support in Congress," according to the AP/Times (Freking, AP/Contra Costa Times, 10/29).
Video of Laura Bush's appearance on "Fox News Sunday" is available online. A partial transcript of the segment also is available online (Wallace, "Fox News Sunday," Fox News Channel, 10/28).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Friday reported on the revised SCHIP bill. The segment includes comments from Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Virginia Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) (Rovner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 10/26). Audio of the segment is available online.
Wall Street Journal: "Democrats say they are urgently concerned for children's health, but their main priority seems to be politics," a Journal editorial states. According to the editorial, "Democrats say they 'modified'" the SCHIP bill to "placate conservative objections, but the policy changes are ornamental" and "address side concerns" in some cases. The editorial adds, "The reauthorization is still propped up by a tax increase, on cigarettes, and it preserves the budget gimmick that disguises the true cost and hands off funding responsibility to a future Congress." Democrats also have "spurned" all Bush administration "genuflections" on the legislation, the editorial states. In the event that a veto override vote fails, "Democrats are likely to pass a continuing resolution funding SCHIP at current levels for another year, positioning a new political blow-up just before the election," the editorial states, adding, "So much for the priority of covering children" (Wall Street Journal, 10/27).
- Washington Post: The revised SCHIP bill "makes significant changes to address the criticisms of President Bush and some Republican lawmakers," but "House Democratic leaders chose to muscle the program through the chamber last week in such a way as to fail to win over any wavering Republicans and to annoy enough others that the prospects for a compromise may be worse than ever," a Post editorial states. According to the editorial, "If the Democrats' goal is to win approval of a measure that would cover more poor children and not to simply score extra political points by keeping the issue alive, it's hard to see how their tactics made sense." However, in the event that Bush and his "Republican allies really are committed to getting children the health coverage they need and not just to preventing Democrats from racking up a legislative achievement, it's hard to explain their continuing intransigence," the editorial concludes (Washington Post, 10/29).