U.S. Senate Panel Approves Kids’ Health Insurance Measure
The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday voted 17-4 to approve legislation that would reauthorize the State Children's Health Insurance Program and increase funding for the program by $35 billion over five years, the Los Angeles Times reports (Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times, 7/20).
SCHIP expires on Sept. 30. Committee members on July 13 finalized an agreement on SCHIP reauthorization that would increase five-year funding for the program from $25 billion to $60 billion by raising the federal cigarette tax from 39 cents to $1 per pack.
Under the plan -- negotiated by committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.), ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and members Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) -- the 6.6 million children currently enrolled in SCHIP would continue to receive benefits, and an additional 3.3 million children could be enrolled in the program.
President Bush has proposed a $5 billion increase over five years for SCHIP, which would increase the program's total five-year funding to $30 billion. In recent days, Bush has said that he would veto the Senate bill (California Healthline, 7/19).
All 11 Democrats on the committee and six of the committee's 10 Republicans voted in favor of the bill. Republican sponsors of the legislation, in addition to Grassley and Hatch, include Sens. Mike Crapo (Idaho), Pat Roberts (Kan.), Gordon Smith (Ore.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) (Johnson, CongressDaily, 7/19).
Republican Sens. Jim Bunning (Ky.), John Ensign (Nev.), Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Trent Lott (Miss.) voted against the bill (Pear, New York Times, 7/20).
Baucus "confidently predicted Senate passage before Congress adjourns for its August recess," USA Today reports. "It's clear to me this will not be filibustered" by Republicans, Baucus said (Wolf/Jackson, USA Today, 7/20).
Despite bipartisan support for SCHIP reauthorization, the Senate's "modest attempt" to renew the program is "unexpectedly becoming a proxy for the next big battle over who pays for American health care," the Christian Science Monitor reports (Russell Chaddock, Christian Science Monitor, 7/20).
Bush on Thursday said that the Senate proposal is "the beginning salvo of the encroachment of the federal government on the health care system" (Los Angeles Times, 7/20).
Baucus on Wednesday in a letter to HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said, "The administration appears to be holding children's health insurance hostage to Congress' adoption of the ... larger health insurance tax and other health reform proposals." Baucus added, "Regardless of the merits of the administration's tax proposal, it has proved far too controversial a matter for the Congress to adopt this year" (Christian Science Monitor, 7/20).
Rockefeller said that Bush and Leavitt have been "pretty belligerent" in their criticisms of the bill. However, Rockefeller added, "It's not clear to me that the president has any intention of vetoing this" bill because the political consequences could be severe (New York Times, 7/20).
Grassley said the White House should recognize that the committee's SCHIP proposal "is good policy" (Homan, CQ Today, 7/19). Grassley added that Bush's proposal to maintain the current number of SCHIP beneficiaries while increasing funding by only $5 billion over five years is "unrealistic" (New York Times, 7/20).
Hatch said, "It doesn't make me comfortable to advocate for such a large increase in spending. But it's important to note that (the program) has been tremendously successful. And one of the lessons we've learned is that it's going to cost more to cover additional kids" (Los Angeles Times, 7/20).
Some Republican senators have criticized the bill for projecting only $3.5 billion in annual SCHIP spending starting in 2013, even though it projects nearly $16 billion in spending for 2012.
Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said, "They are already using gimmicks and loopholes to increase spending without paying for it" (USA Today, 7/20).
However, Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said that Republican lawmakers used similar budget strategies when they passed a $3 trillion tax cut, which he said "absolutely dwarfs what's been done here" (CongressDaily, 7/19).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Friday reported on the committee approval of the bill. The segment includes comments from Grassley, Lott, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Kyl and Congressional Budget Office Director Peter Orszag (Rovner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 7/20). Audio of the segment is available online.
Leavitt on Friday at 3:15 p.m. ET will answer questions about the Bush administration's health care agenda in an "Ask the White House" online chat ("Ask the White House" Web site, 7/20). Questions can be submitted online prior to the chat. A transcript will be available online after the chat.