Senate focused on compromise with new SCHIP bill

A bill that would provide health insurance for 10 million children and would aim to entice House Republicans to override a potential presidential veto advanced in the Senate yesterday, despite resistance from the Bush administration.

In a 62-33 vote, the Senate moved to limit debate on the new bill to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, introduced by members of the Senate Finance Committee. The bill seeks compromise with dissenters who objected to previous SCHIP provisions, such as state-controlled income eligibility levels and taxpayer burden.

Under the bill, the federal cigarette tax would be increased by 61 cents per pack to fund the expansion. Previous versions of SCHIP expansion would have also levied a tobacco tax to help pay for the program.

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The difference this time around lies in Democrats' agreement to cap eligibility income increases at $62,000. Earlier versions of the bill would have enabled states to control increases, which potentially would have resulted in an $83,000 cap in the state of New York. The previous bill’s higher cap was criticized by House Republicans and was cited as a reason why President Bush vetoed it.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Finance Committee chairman, spoke in strong support of the bill. "The CHIP bill that the Senate is now considering should become law, just as the original Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act should have become law."

Baucus said he wishes that Congress had more time to work on SCHIP legislation, "but I believe that those who are ready to put kids before politics will find a way forward on CHIP, and soon," he said.

Bush defended his decision to veto the $35 billion, five-year SCHIP expansion in early October. "I don't like plans that encourage people to move from private medicine to public," Bush said.

At an Oct. 17 press conference in Washington, the president said he wasn't able to reach middle ground with Congress because, "On the SCHIP bill, we weren't dialed in at the beginning."

According to Bush, six or seven states spend more SCHIP-related funds on adults' healthcare than for care to children. Additionally, Medicaid already spends $35 billion a year on children's health insurance, he said.