HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Friday, September 21, 2007

Updates on SCHIP and Threatened Veto

The Government website discusses recent visits from the new OMB Director Jim Nussle  to Congress concerning the SCHIP program and a vote to re-authorize it. 

President Bush has threatened to veto emerging State Children's Health Insurance Program legislation and appropriations bills that are $23 billion over his fiscal 2008 budget request. Even as he was starting meetings with key Democratic leaders and members of the Appropriations and Budget committees this week, Nussle, the former House Budget chairman, made it clear that he is not about to give ground on Bush's demands. . . .

Nussle lambasted the outlines of SCHIP legislation Democrats hope to send to Bush's desk by the end of the month as "veto-bait" and a "political strategy" to paint the administration as insensitive to low-income children more than a serious effort to renew the program.

"What they're doing is choosing political strategy over kids ... they can't get their work done, so they're going to send up something that they know is veto bait," Nussle said. "Everyone knows that; it's been as telegraphed as just about anything around here."  From a philosophical standpoint, Nussle rejected the proposed expansion of SCHIP and efforts to finance it through a cigarette tax increase.

"I think it will end up basically being the first big tax increase on the part of the Congress, and the president's been clear on that. So here we have another situation where we had an opportunity to improve a program that had unsustainable growth, and that was serving people outside of its ... original intent, and actually causing, potentially causing, people who were already under private insurance to potentially shift to government-run insurance, and that seems to be counter to everyone's intent," Nussle said. "So we'll have to look at it. But at this point in time, it looks more like a political strategy in search of a potential solution."

Democrats Monday answered Bush's veto threats by pointing to his 2004 campaign, saying he promised to enroll more children eligible for health insurance.  In a floor speech, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pointed to the bipartisan support for the Senate bill and said the Senate "will not be intimidated by the president's veto threats."  A spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., noted that all but three Republicans supported the proposed cigarette tax increase in the House version as part of a GOP motion to recommit, and that the majority of the bill's $272 billion, 10-year cost was financed by Medicare spending cuts.  "We will get a bipartisan bill to the president that insures millions more children, that is fully paid for and does not increase the deficit. For the sake of America's children, we hope the president will sign it," said Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami.

The stalemate over SCHIP mirrors that over fiscal 2008 appropriations, as none of the 12 annual spending bills are likely to make it to Bush's desk in time for the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. That means an interim continuing resolution will be necessary to fund government operations, as will a short-term extension of the expiring SCHIP.

The Washington Post reports further that it isn't just the Democrats in Congress who favor this bill.  In today's paper, it states,

Republicans reacted angrily yesterday to President Bush's promise to veto a bill that would renew and expand the popular State Children's Health Insurance Program, raising the likelihood of significant GOP defections when the package comes to a vote next week.

"I'm disappointed by the president's comments," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who urged Bush, in an early-morning telephone conversation yesterday, to support the emerging bipartisan compromise. "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."

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