Washington Post, October 26, 2007: House Passes Revised Children’s Health Bill, but Timing Irks GOP

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By Jonathan Weisman

After hours of partisan warfare and delay, the House easily approved a new version of legislation to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program yesterday, but the vote failed to get any more Republicans to override another promised veto from President Bush.

The 265 to 142 tally included 43 Republicans, two fewer than the version that passed Sept. 25. Democratic leaders made changes to answer Republican criticism: tightening rules to exclude illegal immigrants from the program, adding incentives for states to drop families earning more than 300 percent of the poverty line, and driving adults from the program faster.

But Republican leaders rallied their wavering troops around a new issue, whether the vote should have taken place when much of Southern California was on fire and nine House members were touring the disaster zone. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) insisted she had no choice but to move forward and give the Senate a chance to send the measure to Bush next week.

“If Republicans believe in SCHIP as they say they do . . . then they won’t be looking for an excuse to vote against the bill,” Pelosi said.

But when Republicans suggested debating the measure yesterday and voting Monday night, she refused, infuriating even her closest Republican allies on the issue.

“I used to think they cared about the policy. Now I think they care more about the politics,” said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), who had been working for the bill and personally appealed to Pelosi for a delay. “Everything from baptisms to bar mitzvahs, we’ve put off votes for here. But they won’t do it for the people of California.”

An analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office showed that the new version of the children’s health insurance bill did make some substantive changes that Republicans had demanded. Under both versions, the combined average monthly enrollment in SCHIP and Medicaid would be about 34.1 million people, according to the CBO. But there is a shift toward serving poorer children, a key Republican demand. In the new bill, Medicaid enrollment alone would be about 400,000 individuals higher than under the vetoed bill, while SCHIP enrollment would be about that much lower, according to CBO documents.

Almost half of the 3.9 million uninsured children projected to gain coverage under the revised bill would be covered under Medicaid, of whom about 80 percent live below the poverty level, said Genevieve Kenney, an Urban Institute health economist.

But Republican leaders insisted that the changes were nowhere near enough. Republicans used votes to adjourn and other maneuvers to try to derail the vote. Republican supporters of the insurance bill feared that the day’s events had so poisoned the atmosphere they would never persuade the dozen or so Republicans they need to override a Bush veto.

“Part of me thinks this is just a terrible mistake,” said Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-N.M.), another supporter. “It’s either a terrible mistake or an intentional partisan maneuver. Either way, they’re not going to get any more votes.”

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) met with about 20 wavering Republicans in the morning, going point by point down their list of complaints to convince them their concerns had been addressed. Instead, they got an earful from Republicans, angry that consultations had come only after the bill was filed.

“Why are you even bothering with this meeting?” asked Rep. Thelma Drake (R-Va.).

Republicans accused the Democrats of calling the quick vote just so a new round of political ads could blast swing-district Republicans over the weekend. Already, bill supporters have run $1.5 million worth of ads against 20 vulnerable Republicans. A new round is planned but not until early next week, said Brad Woodhouse, head of the Democratic ally Americans United for Change.

“We’re going to call these people out,” he said. “They pled for all these substantive changes. They got them, and now they’re voting against the bill.”

Staff writer Christopher Lee contributed to this report.

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