Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Room for Compromise on Child-Health Bill

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Room for Compromise on Child-Health Bill

Article excerpt

After two weeks of vigils, targeted ad campaigns, and putting kids and their families in the klieg lights, House Democrats expect to fall short on a vote to override President Bush's veto of a popular child health-insurance bill.

But even before Thursday's House vote, GOP moderates were scoping out prospects for a Plan B on renewal of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) - one that they could expect to see the president sign.

A starting point is more funding. Mr. Bush has asked for a $5 billion increase in the S-CHIP program over the next five years. Congress passed a bill calling for a $35 billion expansion.

"There is room for a compromise, but it has to come at the income level [determining which families qualify for government help], and the amount of funding," says Rep. Ray LaHood (R) of Illinois, who has been lobbying his caucus to support the current S-CHIP bill. The intense lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill in the days since Bush's Oct. 3 veto has moved a few votes into the "yes" column, he says, but not enough. "But a lot of Republicans want a bill to vote on."

In the run-up to the override vote, Bush restated his willingness to compromise with Congress over funding levels. "It's time to put politics aside and seek common ground," he said during a press conference Wednesday. "If putting poor children first requires more than the 20 percent increase I have provided, we'll work it out."

But a wild card is how and when Democratic lawmakers will agree to come to terms with Republicans on a bill that they say already represents a compromise - and on an issue that could be a winner for them in November 2008 campaigns.

Republicans are "talking about how to salvage themselves politically," says Rep. David Price (D) of North Carolina. "The president has already dropped his bluster about socialized medicine. If they try to find a way to thread this needle so that they can save face, we need to accommodate them, but only to a very limited extent that does not weaken coverage."

Deep vein of support for the program

Despite the partisan fireworks, there's support for the aims of the 10-year-old program on both sides of the aisle. Neither party wants to be seen as depriving poor children of health insurance.

"Everybody wants it. The program is not going to disappear," says Stuart Rothenberg of The Rothenberg Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter, in Washington. One option, he says, is for Congress to simply extend the program, either through fiscal year 2008 or until the next administration, "when [Democrats] could take over the whole shebang."

"There's going to be something. The real question is whether it will stay on the radar screen between now and November 2008 as a political issue," he adds.

Other elements of a compromise bill GOP moderates are discussing with colleagues in both parties include an assurance that the neediest of poor families get coverage first, before expanding eligibility to higher-income families, and a stronger requirement to verify the US citizenship of families applying for S-CHIP benefits. …

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