Skip to main content

Advanced Search

Advanced Search

Current Filters

Filter your query

Publication Types



Newsletter Article


Democrats Look Outside Traditional Conference Process to Move SCHIP Bill

By Alex Wayne, CQ Staff

September 6, 2007 -- Leading House Democrats said Thursday that they will negotiate compromise children's health insurance legislation informally with their Senate counterparts if Senate Republicans continue to block a formal conference committee on the bill.

House Democrats held a rally with labor union activists on Thursday intended to pressure both President Bush and the Senate to act quickly on a renewal of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which covers more than 6 million low-income children.

Both chambers have passed bills to renew the program, which expires Sept. 30. But Senate Republicans have blocked the appointment of senators to a conference committee that would negotiate a final bill, saying they want an agreement to limit the bill's scope and expense before a conference convenes.

The House bill (HR 3162) is broader and more expensive than the Senate version (HR 976).

"If they're going to block it," said Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., chairman of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, "I think we get together and we get a plan."

"It won't stop us from coming to an agreement on our own in the next few weeks," said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee.

Both men, who helped write the House bill, said after Thursday's rally that they would prefer a formal conference. But one alternative, they said, is for House and Senate Democrats to agree informally on a compromise bill on their own, then approve it in a brief conference at the end of the month if Senate Republican opposition can be overcome.

Another alternative is a short-term extension of SCHIP, perhaps to Nov. 15, Stark said.

"I'd have no objection" to an extension, he said. He said Congress has only nine legislative days before the end of the fiscal year, when the program expires, to clear a conference report for President Bush—who has threatened to veto either the Senate or House versions of the legislation.

The Senate version is much more bipartisan than the House bill; it passed 68–31 on Aug. 2, enough to override a veto. The House bill passed 225–204 on Aug. 1, far short of the two-thirds necessary to overcome a veto.

But each bill has provisions that are objectionable to many members in the opposite chamber. The House bill includes a nearly $50 billion expansion of SCHIP, to $75 billion over the next five years—about $15 billion more than the expansion the Senate approved. The House bill also would cut payments to insurers who participate in Medicare Advantage, a Republican-championed program in which insurers provide benefits to seniors in place of the government. Medicare Advantage has greater support in the Senate.

The Senate bill, however, includes a larger tobacco tax increase than the House bill. The Senate bill would raise the cigarette tax by 61 cents, to $1 per pack, 16 cents more than the increase the House approved. Some House Democrats voted against the House bill because of its tobacco tax increase, and the bill would likely lose additional Democratic votes if the tax were increased further.

Publication Details