U.S. Senate Approves Revised Kids’ Health Insurance Bill
The Senate on Thursday voted 64-30 to approve revised legislation (HR 3963) that would reauthorize and expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, the Washington Post reports (Washington Post, 11/2). No Democrats voted against the bill, and it had the support of 17 Republicans (Lengell, Washington Times, 10/2).
The legislation -- 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 last week failed to pass the revised bill with a veto-proof majority (California Healthline, 11/1).
Senate Republicans on Thursday objected to Democrats' request to delay the vote, and it "appeared their goal was to short-circuit attempts by supporters of the bill to reach a compromise that could attract enough votes in the House to override Bush's veto," according to the AP/Houston Chronicle (Espo, AP/Houston Chronicle, 11/2).
Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), who was leading negotiations with Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.), said, "The talks were making really good progress," but "everything changed" after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) "objected to postponing a Senate vote" on the bill (Pear, New York Times, 11/2).
Rep. Randy Kuhl (R-N.Y.) on Thursday said, "There are areas of disagreement right now in the bill," adding, "[W]e're talking about options to resolve them, which really gets us to the issue of crafting language, which is where we were last night" (Johnson, CongressDaily, 11/2).
Biggert said that several issues still remain but that the two sides had reached an agreement on the number of children in families with incomes less than 200% of the poverty level who must be covered before children in families with higher incomes would be eligible (AP/Houston Chronicle, 11/2). Baucus said that negotiators will meet again on Nov. 6 to continue discussions (Armstrong, CQ Today, 11/1).
He said that opponents of the bill "have succeeded in stopping us today," adding that he hoped lawmakers "will reach an agreement soon." McConnell also was optimistic that "we will be able to get this work out" as soon as more Republicans are included in the negotiations (New York Times, 11/2).
Democratic Caucus Chair Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said, "It's ironic that the House wanted more time and the Senate Republicans wanted less," adding, "Three different positions in three weeks leads me to guess that there was one goal here: Try to kill the bill" (Kaplan, The Hill, 11/2).
Now, lawmakers "appear to have just two choices: pass a temporary extension of the children's health insurance program at existing or slightly higher funding levels or try a third time to pass the sort of comprehensive overhaul that Democrats and some Republicans have sought," according to CQ Today (CQ Today, 11/1). The program, currently authorized with a continuing resolution, will run out of funding Nov. 16 (Marcus, Bloomberg/Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/2).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Baucus said that lawmakers would not rush to hold an override vote, giving negotiators more time to reach a compromise (CQ Today, 11/1). Reid said he plans to ask House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) not to hold an override vote (The Hill, 11/2).
Democrats also could try to use a procedural maneuver to avoid sending the bill to Bush at all (CQ Today, 11/1). Reid said, "We should let things simmer for a while" (New York Times, 11/2). If lawmakers reach a compromise for a third version of the bill, Pelosi has said that the House will consider the bill (CQ Today, 11/1).
McConnell said that Senate Republicans "are committed to finding common ground on this issue, but we cannot do it alone," adding, "We must forge a bipartisan compromise to maintain current coverage and extend coverage to additional low-income children which the president can sign" (Washington Times, 11/2).
White House press secretary Dana Perino in a statement after the vote said, "Congress has known for weeks that the president would veto this bill," adding, "Now Congress should get back to work on legislation that covers poor children and stop using valuable floor time to make partisan statements" (AP/Houston Chronicle, 11/2).
However, House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said that Bush's objection to the cigarette tax increase "basically means he is no longer a player in this" because any compromise bill will include the tax. He added, "The effort really has to be to find enough Republicans to override his veto. We're obviously going to try, either in one week or six months, to override the veto" (CongressDaily, 11/2).
In related news, organizations that support the passage of the SCHIP legislation on Thursday announced that they will run a television advertising campaign targeting Republicans who voted against the bill, the New York Times reports (New York Times, 11/2). The groups -- Americans United for Change, the >American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the Service Employees International Union -- will run both individual ads in lawmakers' districts and a generic version that will run nationally (CongressDaily, 11/2).
The ad asks, "What if your daughter didn't have health coverage ...? What if you had to work two jobs to make ends meet, but still couldn't afford insurance? Would you still back George Bush's vetoes?" (New York Times, 11/2). The ad buy brings the groups' total spending on SCHIP to about $2.5 million, according to Americans United for Change President Brad Woodhouse. The ads will target Kuhl and Reps. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Joseph Knollenberg (R-Mich.), Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), Ric Keller (R-Fla.), Sam Graves (R-Mo.), Thomas Reynolds (R-N.Y.) and Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) (CongressDaily, 11/2).