- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2007

The Senate yesterday gave final approval to a bill that would more than double funding for a health insurance program for low-income children, as Democrats urged President Bush to withhold a promised veto that they don’t have the votes to override.

The Democrat-controlled chamber passed the measure to extend the 10-year-old State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by a vote of 67-29, with the support of 18 Republicans. No Democrats voted against the measure.

“Today we listened to the American people and said yes to the most important advance in children’s health in a decade,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat. “Democrats and Republicans put politics aside to put children first and I urge the president to do the same.”

Republicans say they oppose the measure because it would extend the program to some middle-class families, and would be a major step toward socialized medicine.

“If Democrats want to expand government-run health care, they should do it in the light of day, without seeking cover under a bill that was meant for poor children, and without the politics,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “But the poor kids who we were originally trying to help shouldn’t be caught in the middle.”

The bill calls for spending an additional $35 billion during the next five years, raising SCHIP funding to $60 billion. The plan also would add an estimated 3.4 million children to the 6.6 million currently enrolled.

The expansion would be funded with a 61-cent increase in the cigarette tax.

But after the bill’s passage, the White House repeated Mr. Bush’s veto threat.

“The president will veto this bill because it directs scarce funding to higher incomes at the expense of poor families,” press secretary Dana Perino said in a statement.

Families earning up to twice the national poverty level, about $41,000 annually for a family of four, are eligible for the program.

“This legislation is sensible, it’s necessary, and it fulfills I think our obligation to all of our citizens to give them a chance, particularly the children,” said Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat.

But the measure is far from becoming law. While the Senate tally exceeded the two-thirds majority needed to overturn a veto, the House on Tuesday passed the bill by a vote of 265-159 — about 20 votes shy needed to override a veto.

Mr. Bush, who favors a more modest $5 billion increase to the program, has said he’ll veto the bill because it is too costly.

“Despite [Mr. Bush’s veto] promises, I hope that he will come to his good side and put the well-being of millions of poor children ahead of his own flawed political agenda,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “I hope he realizes that this program is government at its best: lending a helping hand, providing a safety net to children.”

Supporters of the measure say they think they can muster enough support could be found in the House to overturn a veto.

“Remember, 12 congressman were absent from the [House] vote [Tuesday] for various reasons, so you’re in the 270-plus [vote range] on this, so you’re not that far away from overriding a veto,” said Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat. “So let’s see what happens on this.”

Democrats add that it would be politically risky for Republicans to vote against a measure to overturn a veto on a measure to provide health care for children.

Republicans also say the bill would allow states to seek waivers to extend coverage to families in some high-tax states making $80,000 or more annually.

Democrats say that only one state, New York, has asked for a waiver to expand the program to four times the poverty level, which would be about $83,000 in the state for a family of four — a request the administration rejected.

Republicans also have complained the bill doesn’t include enough provisions to block illegal aliens from fraudulently receiving health care through the program. And many Republican lawmakers, particularly those from tobacco-producing states, oppose paying for the program with cigarette tax increase, saying such a move would hurt their state’s economy.

SCHIP, which is a federal-state partnership, subsidizes the cost of insuring children living in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance.

Funding for the program is set to expire at the start of the new fiscal year Monday, but the House passed a measure this week that would temporarily extend funding at the program’s current levels for another six weeks. The Senate was expected to pass a similar measure late yesterday.

Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, this week introduced a measure calling for an 18-month extension of the program. His proposal would expand the program by $1.5 billion for fiscal 2008 and $1.1 billion for the first half of 2009.

Republican Reps. Joe L. Barton of Texas and Nathan Deal of Georgia have introduced similar legislation in the House.

SCHIP ROLL CALL

The Senate last night voted 67-29 to increase the funding for a health insurance program for low-income children. This is how the vote broke down:

DEMOCRATS voting YES (47)

Akaka, Hawaii; Baucus, Mont.; Bayh, Ind.; Bingaman, N.M.; Boxer, Calif.; Brown, Ohio; Byrd, W.Va.; Cantwell, Wash.; Cardin, Md.; Carper, Del.; Casey, Pa.; Clinton, N.Y.; Conrad, N.D.; Dodd, Conn.; Dorgan, N.D.; Durbin, Ill.; Feingold, Wis.; Feinstein, Calif.; Harkin, Iowa; Inouye, Hawaii; Johnson, S.D.; Kennedy, Mass.; Kerry, Mass.; Klobuchar, Minn.; Kohl, Wis.; Landrieu, La.; Lautenberg, N.J.; Leahy, Vt.; Levin, Mich.; Lincoln, Ark.; McCaskill, Mo.; Menendez, N.J.; Mikulski, Md.; Murray, Wash.; Nelson, Fla.; Nelson, Neb.; Pryor, Ark.; Reed, R.I.; Reid, Nev.; Rockefeller, W.Va.; Salazar, Conn.; Schumer, N.Y.; Stabenow, Mich.; Tester, Mont.; Webb, Va.; Whitehouse, R.I.; Wyden, Ore.

REPUBLICANS voting YES (18)

Alexander, Tenn.; Bond, Mo.; Coleman, Minn.; Collins, Maine; Corker, Tenn.; Domenici, N.M.; Grassley, Iowa; Hatch, Utah; Hutchison, Texas; Lugar, Ind.; Murkowski, Alaska; Roberts, Kan.; Smith, Ore.; Snowe, Maine; Specter, Pa.; Stevens, Alaska; Sununu, N.H.; Warner, Va.

INDEPENDENTS voting YES (2)

Lieberman, Conn.; Sanders, Vt.

REPUBLICANS voting NO (29)

Allard, Colo.; Barrasso, Wyo.; Bennett, Utah; Bunning, Ky.; Burr, N.C.; Chambliss, Ga.; Coburn, Okla.; Cochran, Miss.; Cornyn, Texas; Craig, Idaho; Crapo, Idaho; DeMint, S.C.; Dole, N.C.; Ensign, Nev.; Enzi, Wyo.; Graham, S.C.; Gregg, N.H.; Hagel, Neb.; Inhofe, Okla.; Isakson, Ga.; Kyl, Ariz.; Lott, Miss.; Martinez, Fla.; McConnell, Ky.; Sessions, Ala.; Shelby, Ala.; Thune, S.D.; Vitter, La.; Voinovich, Ohio

Not voting (4)

Biden, D-Del.; Brownback, R-Kan.; McCain, R-Ariz.; Obama, D-Ill.

Jon Ward contributed to this report.

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