House to seek override of CHIP veto

January 23, 2008 5:45:24 AM PST
The struggling economy gives Democratic lawmakers another weapon in their effort to expand a popular children's health insurance program. In the end, however, they appear to have made little headway in overcoming a presidential veto.

In December, President Bush for a second time vetoed a bill that would more than double spending on the State Children's Health Program. Bush said the bill would encourage too many families to replace private insurance with government-subsidized health coverage. On Wednesday, the House was voting on whether to override that veto.

In recent days, Democratic lawmakers have stressed that more families will need to rely on SCHIP this year if unemployment increases.

"In a slowing economy, strengthening SCHIP and providing health care to 10 million children is sound policy, and overriding the president's veto is more critical than ever," said Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

The bill's $35 billion spending increase for SCHIP over five years would extend health coverage to an additional 4 million children - up from the 6 million children the program currently covers. Lawmakers sent the president a similar bill in October, which he vetoed. Democratic leaders fell 13 votes short in their previous override effort.

Republican leaders say the vote set for Wednesday is unnecessary. Congress has authorized enough money for SCHIP to maintain current enrollment levels through March 2009.

"It is clear that the political games have not ended," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, in describing the vote.

Dozens of Republicans have joined with Democrats in trying to increase spending on SCHIP. The program serves families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private insurance.

"The bottom line is these kids need coverage," said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., who is chairman of a House health subcommittee. "SCHIP is the best way to handle it."

Both sides say they're willing to sit down after the vote in an effort to reach a compromise. Republicans contend that the current bill does not go far enough to prevent adults and illegal immigrants from getting health coverage through government programs.

But Democrats say such claims have been greatly exaggerated. The bill maintains a prohibition on illegal immigrants participating in SCHIP.

Last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said the SCHIP vote Wednesday will be the first of many this year that will pit competing philosophies about the role of the government in providing health insurance. The year, he predicted, "will be replete with the kind of conflict this town is famous for."