- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Republicans and the White House say Democrats are pursuing a “giant leap” toward socialized health care by trying to draw middle-class families into a federally funded health insurance program for low-income children.

They say proposals being pushed in the House and Senate this week undermine the marketplace by offering coverage to children already insured privately and try to do so by cutting benefits to the elderly.

“Democrats are once again moving us toward ‘Hillary Care’ — a massive, complex system wholly run by government bureaucrats,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio.

The federal Office of Management and Budget said the Senate version would expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to families earning as much as $83,000 annually.

Both versions face a veto threat from the White House, which has proposed a $5 billion expansion to the program versus the Democrats’ call for as much as a $50 billion increase.

Democrats say the program’s expansion is needed to ensure the world’s wealthiest nation properly protects its children.

“The richest country on the face of the earth should not have children who cannot access health care because they don’t have insurance and they can’t afford the cost,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland.

“That is neither a moral posture for our country to be in, nor is it — from a fiscal, economic well-being, competitive position — a situation that we ought to be in.”

Few, if any, Capitol Hill lawmakers dispute the need to reauthorize the 10-year-old SCHIP, but how much it should grow, who should be eligible and how to fund it will dominate the debate.

“No child in our nation should ever go without health care,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the Democratic Caucus chairman. “Now, this Congress has the chance to make a down payment on this goal. But one man is standing in the way: President Bush.”

House Democrats have proposed a $50 billion spending increase for the program over five years, for a total of about $75 billion. The plan would add an estimated 5 million children to the 6 million already enrolled in the program, which expires Sept. 30.

The Senate version would spend an additional $35 billion over five years and would cover 3 million children not currently enrolled.

Republicans said the Democrats’ measures would extend coverage to families with incomes as high as 400 percent above of the federal poverty level — even if the majority of children in those families already have private coverage.

Republicans add that the Democrats’ plans would give SCHIP eligibility to 600,000 to 2.1 million children now on private insurance plans.

“At a time when Republicans in Congress are working furiously to find new ways to rein in entitlement spending and put our nation’s economy back on firm financial footing, Democrats see SCHIP as a means of expanding entitlement spending to levels no economy can sustain,” said House Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri.

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