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House Passes Expansion of Children's Health Insurance

Nathan Burchfiel | Staff Writer | Thursday, August 2, 2007

House Passes Expansion of Children's Health Insurance

(CNSNews.com) - The House of Representatives on Wednesday night passed a reauthorization and expansion of a federal health insurance program for children following a week of bitter debate and in spite of Republican stalling tactics and a veto threat from President Bush.

The House bill would double the size of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), a federally funded program that provides health coverage for kids in families making less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line -- the cost of expansion is estimated at $50 billion over the next five years.

The Senate is expected to pass its own version of SCHIP expansion before the August recess.

Republicans in the House accused Democrats of trying to fast-track the legislation. The 465-page bill was introduced late on July 24, only 10 days before the scheduled start of the recess. Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee blocked efforts to hold normal legislative hearings on the bill because they said it needed to pass the House before the program expires Sept. 30.

Republican efforts to stall the bill using procedural tactics in the Energy and Commerce Committee were thwarted when the Ways and Means Committee approved the measure. Democrats brought the legislation to the House floor under a closed rule, meaning no amendments could be added, and there were strict limits on the length of debate.

On the House floor, Republicans managed to extend debate briefly and attempted to further stall debate by issuing calls for adjournment and a motion to recommit the bill to committee. But their efforts failed, and the bill was passed shortly after 7:30 p.m. by a 225-204 vote. Five Republicans voted in favor of the bill, and 10 Democrats voted against it.

As Cybercast News Service reported, Republicans raised numerous objections to the bill beyond criticizing its timing. They argued that the expansion of the program was too broad, calling it an effort to establish nationalized health care. They also criticized general provisions of the bill that could open up coverage to illegal immigrants.

While the Senate is likely to pass a SCHIP reauthorization bill that is slightly different than the House version, leaders said they are optimistic they can work out a compromise measure to send to President Bush before the program expires.

But Bush has threatened to veto any reauthorization that expands the program. In a July 18 statement, Bush said the proposals in Congress were too broad.

"It was a program initially designed to help poor families afford health care for their children. I support that concept," Bush said. "Members of Congress have decided, however, to expand the program to include, in some cases, up to families earning $80,000 a year -- which would cause people to drop their private insurance in order to be involved with a government insurance plan.

"If Congress continues to insist upon expanding health care through the S-CHIP program -- which, by the way, would entail a huge tax increase for the American people -- I'll veto that bill," Bush said.

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