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Congress still shy of SCHIP override

WASHINGTON (BP)–Congress again has passed legislation to expand a popular children’s health insurance program, and it again has done so without the votes required to overcome a presidential veto.

The Senate voted 64-30 Nov. 1 to reauthorize and expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The House of Representatives passed the bill Oct. 25 with a vote of 265-142. While the Senate’s margin achieved the two-thirds majority needed for a veto override, the House’s majority fell seven votes short.

After the Senate vote, the White House reiterated President Bush’s intention to veto the latest SCHIP version.

Press Secretary Dana Perino said the bill still has “major flaws.” The president supports reauthorization of SCHIP, but Congress needs to pass a version “that puts poor children first and does not raise taxes,” Perino said in a written statement.

Bush vetoed the first version sent to him by Congress Oct. 3.

The battle between Congress and the president includes a skirmish over how much to spend to expand the 10-year-old program. The Bush-vetoed bill would have expanded SCHIP by $35 billion over five years; the president proposed a $5 billion expansion.

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.

The White House and other critics opposed the vetoed SCHIP measure because they said it would have benefited middle-class children at the expense of the poor. They also said it would have moved children already covered by private insurance to government-funded coverage, providing a step toward socialized medicine.

In addition, they said it would have reached beyond the program’s original goal by covering families of four that earn as much as 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $62,000 a year. It also would have permitted New York “to grandfather in” its effort to include families of four at 400 percent of the poverty level, or more than $82,000 a year, foes say.

After the veto, supporters did not reduce the $35 billion expansion but revised it in an attempt to gain more votes in the latest version by barring illegal immigrants from the program, capping the ceiling on recipients at 300 percent of the poverty level and moving adults out of the program in half as much time.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has commended the original SCHIP, but it has opposed both of this year’s proposals, expressing concern both would mark a significant step toward government-run health care.

The House’s override roll call Oct. 18 was 273-156, leaving it 13 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed.

The SCHIP expansion would be underwritten by a 61-cent increase in the federal tobacco tax.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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