HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt reiterated to reporters the presidents intent to veto a Senate bill that seeks to reauthorize and expand the State Childrens Health Insurance Program, even as talk on Capitol Hill increasingly turned to vote counts, backdoor negotiations and a possible veto override.
Leavitt said the Bush administration sent a letter to Senate Finance Committee leaders today outlining the president's objections to a presumed $35 billion SCHIP bill that is expected to be drafted tonight. He said that while the administration favors reauthorization, it nevertheless objects to the added billions of dollars Congress wants to use to expand the program past its original intent.
We want to have a debate about health insurance, not just SCHIP, Leavitt told reporters. But, he said, some proposals would draw some individuals away from the private insurance plans and into a government-run system.
A Senate bill is expected to increase funding for the program at $35 billion over five years above the baseline of $25 billion. Other provisions would allot $400 million for funding shortfalls, provide $700 million for grants to help states enhance outreach and enrollment efforts and create a quality measurement and improvement program for children enrolled in the program. The Senate bill would be funded using a 61-cent per-pack increase in the federal tax on cigarettes.
SCHIP, which is set to expire Sept. 30, covers roughly 6.6 million children from low-income families. -- by Matthew DoBias