The Senate, in a unanimous procedural vote, has cleared the path for debate over its proposed $35 billion childrens healthcare package, even as the White House issued a statement saying it would veto the bill and as the House grappled with a much larger and costlier package of its own.
In a strategic move late Monday designed to hasten a vote, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) attached the bill to renew and expand the 10-year-old State Childrens Health Insurance Program to an unrelated but House-approved tax bill. That move allows the bill to sidestep a lengthier process that would have sent the legislation to a House committee for approval. The Senate bill proposes to raise by 61 cents the federal tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products to help pay for the SCHIP package.
Its just one hurdle cleared out of many that remain, including a House bill that costs twice as much as the Senates and increasingly vocal objections from Republicans and the insurance lobby who say both bills are too expensive and would drive millions of children out of private health plans and into government-run programs.
SCHIP, currently funded at $25 billion over five-year terms, covers about 6 million children from low-income families. It is set to expire at the end of September. In his fiscal 2008 budget, President Bush called for a $5 billion increase over five years, effectively bringing the total to $30 billion. -- by Matthew DoBias