Friday, October 26, 2007

House SCHIP Vote Fails to Attract Veto-Proof Majority

Yesterday evening, the House passed a slightly modified version of the SCHIP bill President Bush vetoed last week, this time by a vote of 267-142. That is still likely at least 7 votes short of the two-thirds needed to overturn the expected Bush veto.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

It is possible that both sides will try to work out a compromise--but not likely.

Expect the Senate to pass it, Bush to veto it, and another uphill Dem attempt to override.

SCHIP is currently operating under a continuing resolution at current funding levels and will continue to do so indefinitely.

The SCHIP battle portends much the same sort of contentious battle for almost all of the upcoming twelve 2008 appropriations bills.

The newer version of the bill makes no major changes to the bill Bush vetoed earlier this month:
  • The bill clarifies the eligibility cut-off for kids in families above 300% of the federal poverty level -- about $62,000 for a family of four this year -- with the exception of any state that is now operating above that level.
  • The bill is explicit in stating that undocumented aliens are not eligible for federal funding.
  • Adults without children will be phased out of the program over one year, rather than over two years, which was previously proposed.
What the Democrats have accomplished is to keep this issue in the headlines for a couple of more weeks as the upcoming Senate vote and Bush veto work their way through the process.

They have also undercut some of the major Republican arguments against the bill with the minor changes. The most significant of those were charges that the SCHIP bill covers middle-class families. The new bill has a clear 300% cap. Bush has already said he will agree to a 300% limit--albeit with firm rules on getting almost all kids under 200% covered first. Republicans had been critical of the first bill saying it would cover illegal aliens and adults and those things have been clarified.

The Dems still want to spend $35 billion more on the SCHIP renewal and Bush has upped his offer from the original $5 billion more to $20 billion more.

Even sympathetic Republicans were ripped that the Dems pushed this to a vote so quickly and without a lot of Republican advice on how to improve the bill. Done more carefully, the Democratic leadership might have come up with the votes they needed.

The Democrats may have also pulled a parliamentary maneuver to get them a better margin by holding the vote when a number of California Republicans were back home because of the wild fires. Republican House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) said Pelosi should have delayed the vote on SCHIP due to the fires in California. "Unfortunately, the speaker announced plans today to hold an important, and contentious, vote on SCHIP while these members are confronting serious issues at home - disenfranchising, in effect, a large segment of the most populous state in the union, and throwing into doubt the integrity of the vote."

Republicans are feeling the political pressure and the Democratic efforts to make them pay a political price aren't helping the atmosphere up on the Hill just as we are about to head into the most contentious budget season since the Gingrich efforts to shut the government down in a budget fight with Clinton.

You would think the two sides are close enough to find common ground.

We should not forget that Clinton vetoed welfare reform twice before getting, what was for him, a better bill and declaring victory.
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