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, effectively bringing the total to $30 billion over five years. But members of Congress have asked for considerably
more. The Senates SCHIP bill would add $35 billion in additional
funding, bringing the total to $60 billion over five years. Meanwhile, a
House bill aims to fund the program at an additional $50 billion, putting
the total at more than $75 billion over five years, but in actuality
making it closer to $100 billion because of other Medicare provisions
that are included.
Minority Whip Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), during debate on the Senate
floor late Monday, said the bill is too expensive and chided federal
lawmakers who favor a tobacco tax increase to use as an offset. Lott said
that the bill would lead to less tobacco revenue and higher taxes, which
he called a prescription for huge budget problems.
If we pass it at $60 billion, it will only go up, Lott said. It
(becomes) the new baseline.
Additionally, Lott and other GOP lawmakers said the Senate version would
drive upward of 2.1 million children out of private health plans an into
a government-run program. He promised a GOP alternative plan to be
debuted in the coming days. -- by href="mailto:[email protected]">Matthew DoBias
href="mailto:[email protected]">Matthew DoBias