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Congress OKs children’s health bill

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Senate easily approved Sept. 27 a children’s health insurance proposal that critics say would move the country nearer socialized medicine.

Senators voted 67-29 to reauthorize and expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The House of Representatives passed the same bill in a 265-159 roll call two days prior to the Senate action.

The votes set up a confrontation with President Bush, who has said he would veto the popular legislation. While the Senate achieved the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto, the House fell nearly 20 votes short of that goal.

The president has urged Congress to pass a temporary extension of SCHIP before it expires Sept. 30.

SCHIP provides federal funds to states to cover children in low-income families that are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid but unable to afford private insurance. SCHIP, which went into effect in 1997, has provided $40 billion over the last 10 years, reducing the number of uninsured children by about two million during that time.

The newly approved bill would expand SCHIP by $35 billion over five years, far more than the $5 billion expansion proposed by Bush. Critics have opposed the new SCHIP measure because they say, for one thing, it would cover families of four that earn as much as 300 percent of the federal poverty level, about $62,000 a year — thereby, critics say, reaching beyond the program’s original goal. It also would permit New York “to grandfather in” its effort to include families of four at 400 percent of the poverty level, more than $82,000 a year, foes have said.

After the Senate vote, the White House reaffirmed Bush’s intention to veto the bill “because it directs scarce funding to higher incomes at the expense of poor families.”

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) supported the original SCHIP but opposes the expanded reauthorization.

“Congress should have left this program alone instead of turning it into a vehicle to expand government-run health care,” said Barrett Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy and research. “The determination of many in Congress to expand SCHIP coverage … to cover millions of children who are already covered by their parents’ private health insurance plans is disappointing to say the least.”

This expansion of SCHIP “reveals the true motives of liberals in Congress,” Duke said. “While they are happy to provide health care to children who are uninsured, they appear even more eager to start us down the road of government-run health care.

“We support the president in this,” he said. “I hope Congress will restore this program to its original intention so that millions of needy, uninsured children can be assured of the health care they need. It is very disappointing to see some of the most vulnerable among us treated as little more than a means to an end. They deserve better. I hope Congress will take the politics out of this important measure and put the uninsured children who need their help first.”

Many Republicans appeared to view voting against the bill as hazardous to their political health. The Democrats have pledged to use a “no” vote against vulnerable GOP candidates in the 2008 election, according to The Washington Post. Each Senate Republican in a tough re-election race voted for the bill, The Post reported. Most House GOP members in swing districts refused to back Bush, according to the newspaper.

“Anyone who votes in lock step with the president and against children’s health, they are going to hear about it back home,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D.-Md., The Post reported. Van Hollen is chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

While all 29 Senate votes against SCHIP reauthorization were by Republicans, 18 GOP members voted for it. In the House, 45 Republicans voted for the measure, while 151 GOP members opposed it.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R.-Kan., urged Bush to follow the Senate’s example and “put politics aside and do what is right for these children.” In charging the bill had been mischaracterized, Roberts said it “does not grant families making over $80,000 SCHIP coverage.”

The SCHIP expansion will be underwritten by a 61 cent increase in the federal tobacco tax.