House Passes Revised Children’s Health Insurance Bill
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JIM LEHRER: Next, Congress tries once again to extend the children’s health care program. NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman reports.
KWAME HOLMAN: House Democrats today tried to pass a ramped-up version of the state children’s health care program legislation the president vetoed earlier this month. It would extend government-funded health insurance to 10 million children whose families don’t qualify for Medicaid at an increased cost of $35 billion over five years.
REP. JOHN DINGELL (D), Michigan: The bill makes changes to accommodate the president’s stated concerns.
KWAME HOLMAN: But a solid group of Republicans, including Florida’s Ginny Brown-Waite, dismissed the bill.
REP. GINNY BROWN-WAITE (R), Florida: You can take horse manure and roll it in powdered sugar and it doesn’t make it a donut.
Members fighting the fires
KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans first tried to postpone the vote because several California Republicans had returned home to their fire-ravaged districts.
REP. PETE SESSIONS (R), Texas: They're not fighting the fire, but they do have a strong belief that what they have done is the right thing, and they would wish to participate fully to their constitutional duties.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Majority Leader Steny Hoyer respectfully refused.
REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), House Majority Leader: The objectives of the members who are not here are understandable and appropriate...
CONGRESSMAN: Would the gentleman yield?
REP. STENY HOYER: ... but what is not appropriate is for me to be put in a position, or anybody who schedules on either side of the aisle, to be put in a position of having our legislative process stopped when we essentially have only a few hours left to go and important legislation to consider.
Divided concerns over the bill
KWAME HOLMAN: Several parliamentary delays and three hours later, the debate was joined, and was colored by partisan disagreements over what actually was in the bill. New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone said the president's concern that it cover only low-income children had been addressed by setting an eligibility cap at 300 percent of the poverty level.
REP. FRANK PALLONE (D), New Jersey: ... that if you go over 300 percent, OK, other than those that are already grandfathered into the program, you're no longer going to be able to cover those kids at that $82,000 or the other levels that they suggested.
Now, we've made an honest effort here to accomplish this. And all we're asking is that a few more of you come over to our side and join the Republicans in the Senate to vote for this legislation.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Mike Rogers of Michigan read the same bill differently.
REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), Michigan: You didn't change anything. As a matter of fact, you made it worse. You actually made it worse. So you know that same $83,000 family that we all agreed and the speaker stood right on this floor and said is a problem? It's still a problem in this bill.
KWAME HOLMAN: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi argued the revised bill made clear no illegal immigrants would qualify for the program.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), Speaker of the House: And the undocumented are not allowed to receive benefits from this initiative. It was clear in the first bill; it's even clearer in the second bill.
KWAME HOLMAN: Louisiana Republican Jim McCrery saw it otherwise.
REP. JIM MCCRERY (R), Louisiana: Despite some window dressing on this, it appears that illegal immigrants will be able to use fraudulent Social Security numbers and still be able to get SCHIP and Medicaid benefits.
Coverage for childless adults
KWAME HOLMAN: And Texas Democrat Gene Green said the new proposal would phase out current coverage for childless adults.
REP. GENE GREEN (D), Texas: The bill is clear on childless adults. For one year, they get coverage, and these adults actually got a waiver, these states got a waiver to cover these adults. So they're going to have one year and then they're off of it.
KWAME HOLMAN: Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn argued that wasn't good enough.
REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), Tennessee: What you're talking about is getting childless adults off the program, not all adults, just childless adults. Madam Speaker, I think that we, as parents, expect our children to grow up and expect them to take responsibility. This is not Never Never Land, and all adults need to be removed from this program.
KWAME HOLMAN: When Democrats brought out the extension of the SCHIP program to the floor last month, 45 Republicans voted to approve it, 13 short of a veto-proof majority.
But the revisions Democrats made in today's bill didn't appear to change any minds. In fact, it lost ground, attracting only 43 Republicans. It's unclear whether congressional Democrats will send this bill to the president for an expected veto.