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The Untouchable SCHIP Veto

September 26, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

Looks like the President will have no problem sinking Congress’ SCHIP. The House was hoping to pass a bill to reauthorize the State Children’s Health Insurance Program — or SCHIP — with enough votes to override the veto that President Bush has threatened. They didn’t. It passed the House on Tuesday night with a strong, bi-partisan vote of 265-159, but that’s still about 25 votes short of the amount needed to reverse a veto.

SCHIP, in case you haven’t been paying attention, is designed to provide subsidized healthcare for children whose families do not qualify for Medicaid, but can not afford private insurance. It currently covers 6.6 million children (and 670,000 adults due to some state-issued waivers that the administration has authorized) and the proposal under consideration would expand it to include about 10 million.

The President, while extending the fig leaf of a small funding increase that Democrats say wouldn’t even maintain the current level of coverage, has threatened to veto Congress’ bill based on ideological objections. He reiterated his concerns over the weekend, calling the proposal “an incremental step toward the goal of government-run health care for every American.”

But SCHIP is widely popular — after all, it provides healthcare for poor kids. If Congress didn’t have to account for their their attempt to expand it, Republicans everywhere would be lining up to help the Democrats force this reauthorization bill past Bush. For most Congressman, Democrat or Republican, the political reality is that most of their constituents really like SCHIP and they don’t want their representative voting against expanding it.

When the Democrats took over Congress in January, they passed new, hardcore budgeting rules known as PAYGO that require them to account for any spending increase by creating an equal increase in revenue elsewhere. With SCHIP, their fiscal heroism proved bittersweet; the revenue increase proposal they agreed upon ended up costing congressional Democrats the critical Republican votes they needed to get their proposal enacted.

Under the the proposal, the expansion would be funded entirely by a 61-cent per pack increase in the tobacco tax. The tobacco industry didn’t like this plan and they showed it by flexing their lobbying muscles with representatives from the tobacco states (North Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee). In the end, only one of the 33 Republican tobacco-state representatives voted for the bill. That’s a support rate of only 3 percent, significantly lower than overall House Republican support rate, which was 22 percent. With about 15 other “nay”-voting representatives who could be considered persuadable “aye” votes — the 6 Democrats who opposed it, the 1 who voted “present,” and the 8 who didn’t vote — even a modest improvement in the rate of tobacco-state-republican support could have made all the difference with this bill.

The Senate will vote on the bill on Thursday and they are expected to muster a veto-proof majority, but both chambers need to be veto-proof to quash a veto.

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