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House Bill Gives a Healthy Start to Millions of Americans

August 1, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

Reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) withstood a true ordeal in the House on Wednesday, but difficult times still lie ahead. After a long day of strained debate, the House approved the reauthorization bill, H.R.3162, by a near party-line vote of 224-197 — four Republicans broke rank to vote for its passage. The bill provides a funding increase of $50 billion over five years, which will allow about 5 million uninsured children to gain health care coverage. Revenue to pay for the increases would come from a 45-cent per pack increase in the federal tobacco tax and a restructuring of the Medicare Advantage program.

Meanwhile, down the hall, the Senate has been debating their own version of a S-CHIP reauthorization bill. The Senate’s bill, S.1893, would add a more-modest $35 billion to the program over five years and recuperate all expenditures from a larger 61-cent per pack tobacco tax increase. Whereas the House bill inspired a partisan clash, the Senate has mostly dealt with their bill calmly. It was brought out of committee as a bipartisan compromise on a 17-4 vote and senators have preserved its balance by rejecting every amendment offered on the House floor so far. A final vote in the Senate will probably be held this evening (Thursday) and it’s expected to be approved with a veto-proof majority.

But all of this feel-good legislative success with health care for kids is being done under a wet blanket. President Bush has threatened to veto both the Senate and House bills because, in his words, it “goes too far in federalizing health care,” among other reasons. But S-CHIP and its expansion is extremely popular — 43 U.S. governors have endorsed it, for example — and Congress is hoping to either force it through with a veto-proof majority or make the President back off hi threat.

“Personally, I believe if we can get enough votes, the president doesn’t want to veto this,” said Orrin Hatch (R-UT), one of the many Republicans in the Senate who support the bill. According to the Washington Post, Hatch and democratic Senator Ted Kennedy (MA) are hoping to “keep the final measure within the scope of the Senate bill, in hopes of avoiding a veto” when the two bills are brought together to be reconciled by a conference committee. Once the conference committee approves a final bill, it will be voted on again in both chambers of Congress before going to the President to be vetoed or become a law. If Hatch and Kennedy succeed in keeping the bill similar to the Senate version, it’s possible that many House Republicans could end up changing their “nays” to “ayes” and we could see a veto-proof majority their as well. After all, virtually everyone wants to vote for health care for America’s children, it’s just that they find some provisions irksome, but those can still be ironed out.

For a sense of how the public feels about S-CHIP, check out the blog coverage rolling in to OpenCongress on the House and Senate bills.

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