House and Senate negotiators recently agreed on the outlines of the bill, which would add $35 billion over five years to the program’s current $25 billion. SCHIP now provides health insurance to about 6.6 million children from families that earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private health insurance. The extra money, which would come from a 65 cent per pack cigarette tax increase, would cover about 4 million more children.
In a speech Thursday, President Bush called the bill a step toward government-run health care for all Americans. He encouraged Congress to instead pass a “clean, temporary” extension of the program, which is set to expire Sept. 30, at its current funding level. He has proposed renewing the program at $5 billion more than current funding level.
The president also accused congressional Democrats of playing politics with the bill.
“Congress is waiting until the SCHIP program is just about to expire before getting a final bill passed. In other words, members of Congress are putting health coverage for poor children at risk so they can score political points in Washington,” he said.
Congressional Democrats disagreed.
“We’re not playing politics,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said from the Senate floor. “We were coming together in a bipartisan way to be able to give more children, American children, the ability to get their health-care needs taken care of.”
The bill has some support from Republicans, particularly in the Senate, where the upper chamber’s version of the bill passed 68-31. Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, have signed off on the final negotiated bill. The House bill passed only 225-204, though, with not enough Republican support to override a presidential veto in the lower chamber, where a two-thirds vote is needed.
Many Republican governors, whose states stand to receive more money from an expanded SCHIP program, also support the bill.