Skip to main content

Advanced Search

Advanced Search

Current Filters

Filter your query

Publication Types



Newsletter Article


Senate Clears Second Children's Health Bill as Talks Continue

By Drew Armstrong, CQ Staff

November 1, 2007 -- The Senate on Thursday passed a revised children's health insurance bill that President Bush has threatened to veto, just as he did an earlier version. But Congress may not give him that chance right away.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., had suggested congressional leaders hold up on sending the bill to the White House to allow more time for bipartisan, bicameral negotiations to craft a compromise.

And if the bill does go to Bush, "it's my recommendation that we do not even attempt a veto override," Reid said. "We are very close to being able to do a bipartisan, bicameral children's health bill," he said.

Reid said he had discussed the matter with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and she concurred.

The Senate passed the bill (HR 3963) Thursday by 64–30, after voting 65–30 to limit debate on the measure.

Senate Republican leaders blocked Reid's repeated attempts to delay passage of the bill to allow more time for the negotiations aimed at a compromise. They complained the talks were not designed to produce a bill that would win Bush's signature but rather to draw enough additional votes from House Republicans to override a presidential veto.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., complained, "Senate Republicans are committed to finding common ground on this issue, but we cannot do it alone. We must forge a bipartisan compromise to maintain current coverage and extend coverage to additional low-income children which the president can sign."

Bush on Oct. 3 vetoed the first bill (HR 976) Congress sent him to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program by about $35 billion over five years. A veto override attempt in the House Oct. 18 fell 13 votes short of the two-thirds majority required. All but two Democrats voted to override the president, so additional votes must come from Republicans.

The House on Oct. 25 rushed through a revised bill, but it did not win over any new Republican support. Both measures would expand SCHIP by about $35 billion over five years, to $60 billion. About 6 million are now insured through the program. The legislation would raise tobacco taxes to pay for the expansion, including a 61-cent increase in the cigarette tax, to $1 per pack.

The White House issued a statement warning Bush would veto the revised bill, just as he had nullified the first one. Reid said, "I don't think we should rush forward and try to override his veto. I think we should just let things simmer for awhile."

Authorization for federal SCHIP funding was extended in the first fiscal 2008 continuing appropriations resolution (H J Res 52 — PL 110-92) that expires Nov. 16.

Bipartisan Senate negotiators led by Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and the panel's ranking Republican, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, have been meeting with a group of House Republicans in pursuit of a compromise.

"The changes that our members are looking for are not deal-killers," said House Republican Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio.

Reid said he believed House Republicans had been negotiating in good faith and wanted to craft a package that could become law. But he accused the administration of moving the goal posts on the negotiators. "The problem is each time something is crafted we get a call from the White House," Reid said.

Baucus said just before the Senate vote, "We've made progress, a lot of progress. We're very close. We'll meet again next Tuesday. We'll reach agreement soon."

In an Oct. 28 letter to House Democratic leaders, 38 Republicans outlined the changes they want in the SCHIP legislation. Boehner said the GOP members want to make sure children of illegal immigrants cannot obtain coverage under the program, that income eligibility caps are tightly drafted, and that the program covers children from families at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level before those from families with somewhat higher incomes.

Democrats have said they are prepared to negotiate most points provided the final bill meets their core demand of expanding SCHIP to cover 10 million children, up from the roughly 5.5 million currently enrolled.

Boehner said the bill's tobacco tax increase, which Bush has objected to, is not a deal-breaker for House Republicans.

Publication Details