New York Times, October 25, 2007: House to Vote on New Version of Child Health Bill

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 24 Sensing a political advantage, Democrats rushed Wednesday to move a health care bill for children back to the House floor, having made minor changes to win over more Republicans.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would vote Thursday on the new bill. Like the original, which President Bush vetoed three weeks ago, it would cover 10 million children through the State Children۪s Health Insurance Program and increase spending on the program by $35 billion, for a total of $60 billion, in the next five years.

But the new bill would tighten eligibility for the program, generally barring the use of federal money to cover illegal immigrants, childless adults and children of families with incomes exceeding three times the poverty level: $61,950 for a family of four.

“The bill addresses all of the concerns that were expressed by our colleagues and by the president,” Ms. Pelosi said. “We hope the Republicans will take yes for an answer.”

Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan, said the changes would improve the bill and would pick up some Republican votes.

Mr. Upton was among 44 Republicans who voted last week to override the president۪s veto of the earlier measure. Supporters fell 13 votes short of the number needed to override in the House. The bill had passed in the Senate with more than the two-thirds majority needed to override.

Public opinion polls show broad support for some version of the legislation, and Democrats say they hope to ride the health care issue to victory in next year۪s elections. Unions and liberal groups like have run radio and television advertisements attacking lawmakers who voted against earlier versions of the child health bill.

Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, said the income limits in the new bill “completely obliterate” Mr. Bush۪s argument that Congress wanted to provide coverage to families making $83,000 a year, which is about four times the poverty level for a family of four.

The new bill, on which Senate supporters have been working with its backers in the House, would still cost more than Mr. Bush wants. And it would be financed with an increase in tobacco taxes, another feature to which he objects. Representative Adam H. Putnam of Florida, chairman of the House Republican Conference, said Democrats were trying to “ram through the House another ill-conceived bill.”

Bush administration officials were on Capitol Hill on Wednesday and said they wanted a compromise. Michael O. Leavitt, the secretary of health and human services, met with House Republican leaders on Tuesday and with Senate Republican leaders on Wednesday, but said he had “yet to engage in direct conversations with the Democrats.”

“I have zero impact on what the Democrats do,” Mr. Leavitt said.

Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said administration officials did not appear to be serious about striking a deal. “I don۪t think they want a bill,” Mr. Emanuel said.

Mr. Leavitt said the administration was willing to accept a $20 billion increase in spending on the program over the next five years. That is halfway between the $5 billion increase proposed by Mr. Bush and the $35 billion increase in the bill passed with bipartisan support in both houses of Congress.

Under the new bill, as under the previous one, the federal excise tax on cigarettes would be increased by 61 cents a pack, to a total of $1, and Mr. Leavitt said the administration still opposed that provision.

“We don۪t see a need to raise taxes,” he said, noting that the president had proposed changes in Medicaid and Medicare that would save $92 billion over five years.

Mr. Bush repeatedly voiced concern that earlier versions of the bill would encourage people to drop private insurance and enroll their children in government health programs. Under the new bill, all states would have to take steps to minimize substitution of public coverage for private.

The new bill, like the original, would require states to verify the citizenship or, in a limited number of cases, the legal immigrant status of people seeking or receiving benefits under the program. A state could try to confirm citizenship by checking whether a person۪s name and Social Security number matched those in federal records. If this approach did not work, states would have to examine documents like birth certificates to confirm eligibility.

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