These days its hard to get Democrats and Republicans to agree on anything. But there is one bipartisan bill that has incredible support in both parties--the $35 billion expansion and renewal of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
By any measure SCHIP has been an incredibly good success--covering 6 million kids. There have been some legitimate questions about it growing beyond its original intent--covering kids up to 350% of poverty and some adults in a few states. But the fact is that the number of children without health insurance has begun to grow again with 9 million kids not covered under the expiring SCHIP law. And, the bipartisan agreement does tighten up the eligibility standards somewhat.
There is so much bipartisan support that 68 Senators voted for the original Senate agreement--a veto-proof majority. There are another 20-30 House Republicans that look ready to vote for it--still short of the number needed to override a Bush veto.
Leading Republicans appear more frustrated with President Bush than Democrats. Republican Senator Orin Hatch: "We're talking about kids who basically don't have coverage. I think the President's had some pretty bad advice on this." Senate Finance Ranking Republican Chuck Grassley: "I'm disappointed by the President's comments. Drawing lines in the sand at this stage isn't constructive...I wish he would engage Congress in a bill that he could sign instead of threatening a veto." Republican Senator Gordon Smith: "I'm very disappointed. I'm going to be voting for it." (Source: Washington Post 9/21).
What a dumb place to draw a line in the sand. But Bush has done it and he underscored all of this by opening his nationally televised press conference yesterday with a long statement repeating his determination to veto the SCHIP extension because it represents a creeping expansion of government-run health care. No matter that all of the insurance industry is behind the bill!
House Republican leaders have vowed to follow the President and defeat any attempt to override his veto--which they probably can succeed in doing.
But there might be an out here. House Republican leaders are offering an 18 month extension at existing funding levels.
That may be the best deal SCHIP supporters can hope to get. The bright side: The next vote would come in early 2009 just after the new President and the new Congress take office. Right now, it looks like a pretty good bet the new President would be just a bit more sympathetic.
Taking that deal would also keep the SCHIP disagreement out of what looks more and more like one heck of a year-end budget mess.
Earlier post: Why Is President Bush So Willing to Veto Spending Bills All of a Sudden?
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