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Grassley, Hatch Urge Bush Against SCHIP Veto

By Alex Wayne, CQ Staff

July 12, 2007 – The chief Republican architects of a tentative deal the Senate Finance Committee has struck on children's health insurance are defending the proposal against criticism by President Bush, who may veto it.

Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah said that they are steadfast against expanding the program as much as Democrats would like, and gave examples in a statement Thursday of how they have scaled it back in committee negotiations.

Bush said in a speech July 10 that the State Children's Health Insurance Program is going beyond its original intent and that he will resist efforts to expand the program. Bush did not mention a veto, but the two Republican Senators said there are reports that he will do so if the proposal expands the SCHIP program. The White House press office did not return a phone call Thursday seeking confirmation of a veto threat.

Finance Committee members said earlier this week they have reached an agreement that would increase spending for SCHIP by $35 billion over the next five years—$15 billion less than Democrats called for in the congressional budget resolution (S Con Res 21.) The extra spending would be financed with increased tobacco taxes; chiefly a 61-cent boost in the cigarette tax, to $1.00 per pack. Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus,
D-Mont., plans to release the proposal Friday and have his panel mark it up July 17, but lobbyists said Thursday negotiations were still underway.

The Finance deal would not allow SCHIP to be expanded to cover more adults, they said, though they did not say what would happen to the more than 600,000 adults already covered by the program. The deal also would not allow SCHIP to cover legal immigrants, a standard provision in every SCHIP reauthorization bill that Democrats have introduced so far.

"What the administration needs to understand is that if a bipartisan plan isn't achieved, then the Democratic-controlled Congress will, at the very least, extend the current program with all the terrible policy provisions that have evolved, such as waivers for childless adults and coverage for higher-income kids," Grassley and Hatch said.

Further, the lawmakers warned that Bush's preferred policy—tax breaks for middle-income families to help them buy health insurance—isn't going anywhere soon. "[I]t's not realistic—given the lack of bipartisan support for the President's plan—to think that can be accomplished by next week or even before the current children's health care program runs out in September," they said.

However the Senate SCHIP renewal evolves, it is likely to be more palatable to Bush than the House version. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., vice chairwoman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over SCHIP, said Thursday that Democrats in her chamber are still planning a $50 billion expansion that would allow continued coverage of adults.

"If the president wants to veto an expansion of a program—that his own administration has supported—which provides health care for low-income kids, I think that's just a terrible misjudgment," she said.

While Baucus plans for his committee to vote on its bill July 17, DeGette said negotiations are ongoing in the House, and the Energy and Commerce Committee won't vote on a bill next week.

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