- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2007

The Senate passed another measure yesterday to more than double funding for a popular health care program for low-income children, although President Bush is expected to veto the bill, as he did a near-identical measure last month.

The action will leave Capitol Hill lawmakers little time this year to work out a new long-term deal to expand the $5 billion annual budget for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

“The president has manufactured phony excuse after phony excuse to mislead Americans into opposing” the bill, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “Regardless, we will continue to work in good faith with the president and Republican leaders … to provide 10 million American children the health care they need.”

The Democrat-controlled Senate passed the measure to extend the 10-year-old program by a vote of 64-30, with the support of 17 Republicans. No Democrats voted against the measure. With six senators absent, the tally secured a two-thirds majority necessary to protect the measure from a veto. The House last week approved the bill by a vote of 265-142 — about a dozen votes shy of a veto-proof majority.

Capitol Hill Republican leaders and the White House say the bill doesn’t provide enough assurances that the poorest children eligible will be covered first and provides insufficient safeguards to assure that money won’t be spent on people who are ineligible, including illegal aliens.

The president also criticized the plan’s primary funding source this week — a 61-cent tax increase on a pack of cigarettes — as an unnecessary tax increase.

A bipartisan group of senators had been negotiating with House Republican leaders this week in an attempt to broker a deal. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell yesterday blocked a request to give the negotiations more time, accusing Democrats of failing to negotiate in good faith.

“Senate Republicans are committed to finding common ground on this issue, but we cannot do it alone,” the Kentucky Republican said. “We must forge a bipartisan compromise to maintain current coverage and extend coverage to additional low-income children which the president can sign.”

Mr. Reid, however, said the two sides had made significant progress and were close to reaching a deal.

“I believe the negotiations that have taken place on this matter have been in good faith,” he said. “I don’t know how it would be physically possible for us to do any more.”

Mr. Reid said he would continue to work toward passing a long-term SCHIP deal this year. But with a busy legislative calendar set for the rest of the year, and with funding for SCHIP set to expire Nov. 16, legislators may opt for a temporary one-year funding extension of the program.

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

The bill calls for a $35 billion spending increase for the program during the next five years, raising funding to $60 billion. It would add almost 4 million children to the 6 million currently enrolled.

Democrats have rejected the president’s proposed $5 billion increase because they say it would cover about 800,000 fewer children than their plan.

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