Friday, August 03, 2007

Senate passes child health insurance bill over Bush veto threat

This is off CNN.Com:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate passed legislation Thursday to add 3 million lower-income children to a popular health insurance program in bipartisan defiance of President Bush's threatened veto.

The 68-31 vote, one day after the House passed a more ambitious and expensive version over bitter Republican opposition, handed Democrats a solid achievement to trumpet as they leave Washington for a summer break.

It also gave Democrats, who secured a veto-proof margin, a chance to draw a stark distinction between their priorities and Bush's on an issue that resonates with voters.

"For the life of me, I can't understand why the president would want to veto this legislation," said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the Finance Committee chairman. "It's moderate, it's bipartisan, it helps low-income kids. ... It's just the right thing to do for the country."

Bush has proposed spending $5 billion to extend the program. He says the Senate's $35 billion expansion would balloon the decade-old program beyond its original mission of covering children of working-poor parents and would move more people toward government-run health care.

The State Children's Health Insurance Program expires Sept. 30.

The Senate measure now must be reconciled with the House-passed $50 billion expansion, which was paid for partly by cutting government payments to Medicare health maintenance organizations.

Both bills include hefty tax increases on tobacco products to pay for the spending increase.

The health program is designed to subsidize the cost of insurance for children whose families earn too much to participate in Medicaid, but not enough to afford private health insurance.

Through federal waivers, the program has expanded in many states to include middle-income children and adults. That has led Republicans to argue that it has become a backdoor way to extend government-provided health care to an increasing number of people.

National polls show overwhelming majorities of voters support expanding the children's health program and are more likely to support candidates who back it.

The Senate voted a 68-31 veto-proof margin to add more lower-income children into the program. This is a very powerful vote, considering how closely divided the Senate is. Senate Republicans may be starting to worry that their continued goose-stepping support for the Bush administration may cause quite a few of these GOP senators to lose their seats in the 2008 elections. These senators needed some way to distance themselves from the Bush White House, and the State Children's Health Insurance Program is a perfect platform for those GOP senators--especially since the program is very popular among the American public. This could be one reason why you see this serious bipartisan support within the Senate. On the other side, the House vote was a party-line vote of 225-204 in order to increase the funding for this insurance program--well below the 2/3rds vote needed to override a presidential veto. House Republicans were probably expecting a close, party-line vote in the Senate, which would force Bush to use his veto and perhaps even cause the program to expire. With a 2/3rds majority of the Senate voting for this bill, this is certainly going to pressure House Republicans to seriously reconsider their vote on the final compromised bill, lest they be attacked in 2008 for not supporting the health of American children.

And as for President Bush? Well, he's going to veto the bill. According to this July 15, 2007 New York Times article:

WASHINGTON, July 14 — The White House said on Saturday that President Bush would veto a bipartisan plan to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program, drafted over the last six months by senior members of the Senate Finance Committee.

The vow puts Mr. Bush at odds with the Democratic majority in Congress, with a substantial number of Republican lawmakers and with many governors of both parties, who want to expand the popular program to cover some of the nation’s eight million uninsured children.

Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, said: “The president’s senior advisers will certainly recommend a veto of this proposal. And there is no question that the president would veto it.”


The proposal would increase current levels of spending by $35 billion over the next five years, bringing the total to $60 billion. The Congressional Budget Office says the plan would reduce the number of uninsured children by 4.1 million.

The new spending would be financed by an increase in the federal excise tax on tobacco products. The tax on cigarettes would rise to $1 a pack, from the current 39 cents.

Mr. Fratto, the White House spokesman, said, “Tax increases are neither necessary nor advisable to fund the program appropriately.”


White House officials said the president had several other reasons to veto the bipartisan Senate plan.

“The proposal would dramatically expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program, adding nonpoor children to the program, and more than doubling the level of spending,” Mr. Fratto said. “This will have the effect of encouraging many to drop private coverage, to go on the government-subsidized program.”

In addition, Mr. Fratto said, the Senate plan does not include any of Mr. Bush’s proposals to change the tax treatment of health insurance, in an effort to make it more affordable for millions of Americans.

You've got to love President Bush's consistency here--the Democratic bill will raise taxes and socialize medicine. This is another attempt at creating a government-sponsored health insurance, which will cut into private insurance and employee insurance programs run by Big Insurance. It will cut into Big Insurance profits! Of course, we also can't raise any taxes--even sin taxes on cigarettes. That is going to cut into Big Tobacco's profits. Got to protect the corporate profits here, at the expense of the American people.

The sad news here is that if the program ends up expiring, these same low-income children are going to end up getting their medical care through emergency rooms at state or county-run hospitals--medical care costs that are probably going to increase since it is going through the emergency rooms. And the low-income Americans are not going to be able to afford the costs of emergency room care, which will result in the costs being pushed upon the state taxpayers. I'll admit that I'm not an expert on the health care problems in this country, but looking at the Bush administration's record of favoring policies that increase corporate profits over that serving the American public, it is not surprising that we're going to see more problems in our health care system. It is only a matter of time.

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