Chicago Tribune, October 19, 2007: House fails to foil health-care veto

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By William Neikirk

After failing to override President Bush’s veto of a bill to expand a popular children’s health-care program, House Democratic leaders pledged Thursday to send him another measure in two weeks of similar size and scope.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters the new legislation would cover 10 million children, just as the vetoed bill did. She said the president is “isolated” from the rest of the country in opposing an expansion of the program from 6.6 million to 10 million children over the next five years.

But the Democratic strategy also set up the possibility that Bush could veto the measure again if it were not changed significantly to meet his objections. That could turn the effort to reauthorize the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, into a major political football. The program expired at the end of September, but has been temporarily extended to Nov. 15.

The measure fell 13 votes short of the two-thirds requirement to override the veto. The vote was 273-156, as 54 Republicans voted with Democrats to pass the bill, compared with 53 GOP members who voted for the bill when it first passed. Only two Democrats voted to sustain the veto compared with six who voted against the bill originally.

In the Illinois delegation, all 10 Democrats voted to override. Seven Republicans voted to uphold the veto while two, Reps. Mark Kirk and Ray LaHood, voted against the president.

The White House expressed pleasure that Bush’s veto had been upheld and the GOP’s leadership in the House said it was not given a chance to negotiate a compromise. “I would hope that the political games will come to an end,” said House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Pelosi and other Democrats held open the possibility that the new measure would be tweaked somewhat from the vetoed bill, but Pelosi said covering 10 million children “is not negotiable.” She said Democrats could not support an alternative GOP bill that would feature tax credits to expand health-care coverage for kids.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), who helped design the program when he served in the Clinton White House, said in an e-mail he could not provide details of the next bill, but added that the “fundamental structure” of the vetoed legislation would be retained while ensuring 10 million children are still covered. He said changes would be made “so people think their concerns were heard.”

The bill killed Thursday would have cost an additional $35 billion over the next five years and made children’s health-care insurance available to more middle-class families. The expansion would have been financed with a 61-cent-a-pack increase in the federal tobacco tax, raising the levy to $1 a pack. Bush would have extended the program for five years, but at a modest cost of $5 billion. The White House said it is focusing on ensuring 500,000 poor children not now enrolled in SCHIP are covered in any new bill.

“As it is clear that this legislation lacks sufficient support to become law, now is the time for Congress to stop playing politics and to join the president in finding common ground to reauthorize this vital program,” said White House press secretary Dana Perino.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Senate Democrats would also stand firm on expanding coverage to 10 million children. “If the administration is prepared to negotiate some of the other choices in the bill, we have no choice but to try,” he said.

The House debate developed into an election-year political and philosophical showdown over spending and the government’s appropriate role in providing health care for children.

Picking up where Medicaid for poverty-stricken families leaves off, SCHIP in general covers children from families earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $41,300, for a family of four.

The new bill would enable all states to cover children in families up to 300 percent of poverty, which — with an infusion of $35 billion in federal funds — would enable all states to expand their SCHIP programs to families earning about $61,000 a year.

GOP members objected to extending the program to so many middle-income families and said many people would abandon private insurance in favor of a government-provided insurance for their children. Some Republicans said the change would amount to “socialized medicine.”


Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune

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