September 25, 2007
S-CHIP vote in the House today

The battle over S-CHIP will be re-joined today as the House takes up the a compromise bill that was agreed upon last Friday. An earlier version of that bill, HR 976, passed with 68 votes in the Senate last month, which is enough to override a Presidential veto. The House doesn't currently have enough votes for that, but you can bet your paycheck that a whole lot of whipping is going on right now. Bill Scher lays out the dynamics of the fight, and there's more information about the compromise bill here.

You can, of course, help with this by calling your member of Congress and urging him or her to support this bill. Some Texas Republicans are thought to be persuadable, so if anyone out there has Louie Gohmert, Kenny Marchant, Mike McCaul, or Lamar Smith as their representative, please consider giving the House switchboard a call at (202) 224-3121 and telling them to vote in favor of the bill. Alas, there are still some Democrats who, for reasons unknown to me, need to be brought in line. Every Democratic "No" vote makes it that much easier for this to die. The bill can be passed with a few Dem dissenters, but it can't become law over President Bush's avowed veto without a united front. Those of you with any connections to the following, you know what to do:

Dan Boren (OK)
Jim Cooper (TN)
Joe Donnelly (IN)
Brad Ellsworth (IN)
Baron Hill (IN)
Bob Etheridge (NC)
Mike McIntyre (NC)
Heath Shuler (NC)
Jim Marshall (GA)
Gene Taylor (MS)

A total of 290 votes in the House are needed. If we get 280 or so, and some of these are left on the table, all I can say is I hope there will be consequences. There's no valid reason for a Democrat to oppose S-CHIP.

Finally, Rep. Garnet Coleman, one of the biggest boosters of CHIP in the state legislature, has an op-ed on S-CHIP in today's Chron. I'm reprinting it beneath the fold for posterity.

Stop Bush from chipping away at children's care President hasn't learned from hard Texas experience


One of the most telling measures of our values and compassion -- as individuals, as a state and as a nation -- is our commitment to afford every family the opportunity to raise a healthy child. As an economic and moral issue, it's a commitment that should transcend political party and ideology, but the future of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) is subject to foolish political obstruction by the Bush administration.

After difficult legislative battles in the 1990s, Texas was making great progress with our CHIP program before 2003, when the new partisan Republican legislative leadership enacted policies that caused more than 200,000 Texas children to lose their health insurance. Those legislative changes were so damaging that they played a role in Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick's team losing seats in the 2006 elections. This year the Texas Legislature voted to roll back some of the restrictions put in place in 2003.

Now the debate has moved to Washington, D.C., where President Bush has implemented rules that would cut off more children's health care and has vowed to veto a reauthorization of SCHIP legislation that would give states the ability to offer health care coverage for more than 3 million uninsured children. Instead of adopting the Texas success story from the 1990s, President Bush and his fellow congressional ideologues seem intent on importing Texas' 2003 failures to Washington.

In 1999, I wrote the law that established CHIP in Texas. We designed CHIP as a public policy that would fulfill the promise of affordable access to health coverage for children from working families who can't afford it. Unfortunately, for the past four years, partisan ideologues in the Texas Legislature have enacted policies intentionally designed to deny health care to as many children as possible.

While 200,000 Texas children lost their health coverage, Texas has been forced to return $1 billion of our federal tax dollars to the federal government because barriers were put in place to cut CHIP enrollment. Now our dollars are being spent to help children in other states.

Thankfully, two new laws should improve access to CHIP. According to official estimates by the Legislative Budget Board, approximately 100,000 more Texas children should enroll in CHIP thanks to House Bill 109. Additionally, an amendment I placed on the state budget should eliminate red tape that has denied health coverage to thousands of children.

Even with these changes, 1.4 million children in Texas have no health insurance, and Congress and President Bush should not fail any of these children.

After months of work, Congress is poised to pass SCHIP legislation that would substantially increase funding by $35 billion over the next five years. Funded by an excise tax increase on cigarettes, the proposed Senate bill would cover an additional 3.2 million children in the United States. The U.S. Senate passed the $35 billion SCHIP bill, with the support Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

The cost of health insurance goes up every year. SCHIP will lose ground and kids will lose health insurance unless it covers rising health insurance costs. Earlier this summer, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, supported a SCHIP bill that would have barely kept up with the rising costs and was insufficient to add any new children to the program, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

President Bush's proposed plan would likely cover fewer children than the program does today. Even more galling, the administration recently implemented rules that effectively prohibit states like Texas from ever covering many children whose parents earn just enough to make 250 percent of the federal poverty level, but can't afford health insurance.

It's tragic that some Texans in Washington are pushing failed policies from Texas. When Bush was governor, he supported even more restrictive eligibility standards, but the Texas Legislature ultimately forced him to sign a bill that covered more children.

At that time, Gov. Bush cynically remarked to one legislator: "You crammed it down our throats." In 1999 all we did was provide access to health coverage for children whose parents worked but couldn't afford it. Now it's time for Washington, D.C., to do the same, and it's a shame that Congress may have to "cram it down the throats" of leaders who should have learned better by now.

Coleman, a Houston Democrat, is senior member of the Public Health Committee in the Texas House of Representatives.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 25, 2007 to Budget ballyhoo