Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Democrat-led House yesterday failed to insulate its expansion of a health insurance program for low-income children from a promised veto, as Republicans rallied against the prospect of using tax dollars they say would insure illegal aliens and middle-class families.

The final version of the bill to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, passed by a vote of 265-159, but fell more than 20 votes shy of the total needed to override a veto by President Bush. Forty-five Republicans voted for the expansion, while eight Democrats cast votes against it.

Congressional Democratic leaders urged the president to reconsider his veto threat.

“We think the president has 10 million reasons to sign the [SCHIP] bill: the 10 million children who will benefit,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Republicans say the legislation would make it easier for illegal aliens to unlawfully participate in the program because it would allow states to disregard a requirement to review identity documents in favor of submitting only the names and Social Security numbers of applicants to the Social Security Administration.

Congressional Republicans and Mr. Bush also complain that the Democrat-crafted proposal would allow states to seek waivers to extend coverage to some families making as much as $83,000 annually and would be a major step toward socialized medicine.

“Federal funds targeted for low-income children should benefit low-income children. Period,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “The children this program is intended to serve deserve better, as do American taxpayers.”

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. The administration rejected the request.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill today. Because a two-thirds majority is required in both chambers to override a veto, it appears unlikely that the bill, as written, will become law. If the measure is killed by a veto, Democrats say, they are prepared to draft a temporary extension of the program — which expires Monday — at its current levels.

The bill calls for extending the 10-year-old program by spending an additional $35 billion during the next five years, raising SCHIP funding to $60 billion. The plan will add an estimated 3.4 million children to the 6.6 million currently enrolled in the program.

Mr. Bush favors a more modest $5 billion increase.

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

The measure, backed by 43 governors and many advocacy groups, is a compromise between SCHIP bills that passed the House and Senate last month.

The final draft closely resembles the Senate version. The more costly House plan called for a $50 billion expansion of the program over five years.

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.

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