Congressional Democrats said they will not hold a vote on legislation to renew and expand SCHIP this year, citing an inability to override a promised veto by President Bush, among other issues, the New York Times reports.
The "fight over the children's insurance program prefigures a larger legislative debate, expected to start next year, over the future of health care and the role of government in providing it," the Times reports.
President Bush vetoed two earlier versions of the SCHIP bill, saying they represented the first step toward "government-run health care for every American." The House sustained both vetoes. The Times reports that Democrats cited several reasons for postponing the vote. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the estimated cost of the bill has increased, but projected revenue from higher tobacco taxes to fund the expansion is about the same. CBO also estimated that the bill would reduce the number of uninsured U.S. children by 4.4 million by 2013, but also could result in a 2.3 million decrease in the number of children who would otherwise have had private coverage, according to the Times. Under current rules, Congress would have to identify ways to offset the costs. In addition, the Times reports that the "congressional calendar is packed with other issues."
According to the Times, SCHIP has become an issue in some congressional elections, and although some Republicans "might switch sides and vote for the bill, in an effort to win the approbation of voters," supporters do not believe they could gather enough votes to override a veto. House Democratic Caucus Chair Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) said, "We are not going to change any votes on the children's health insurance bill. We still don't have enough to override a veto," adding, "Those who opposed this bill can face the voters and explain why they believe 10 million kids should not get health coverage" (Pear, New York Times, 9/8).
Candidates Return to Congress
In related news, Democratic lawmakers could use a second economic stimulus package to "dare Republicans," who are "vowing to cut government spending, to oppose such a package in the midst of rising unemployment," the Washington Post reports. The bill, totaling $50 billion, would include infrastructure projects, relief for state governments experiencing rising Medicaid costs, home heating assistance for the Northeast and upper Midwest and disaster relief for the Gulf Coast and Midwestern flood zone. The stimulus bill has not been written yet (Weisman/Kane, Washington Post, 9/7).
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) on Sunday said that he will not return to his Senate seat until January, after he recuperates from surgery to remove a malignant brain tumor, the Washington Post reports. Kennedy's aides previously had said his plans were to return this week. According to the Post, Kennedy hopes to play a leading role in writing a national health insurance bill next year. Congress also is expected to consider mental health parity legislation, a cause Kennedy has championed for more than 10 years, the Post reports (Kane, Washington Post, 9/8).