Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who last month was the highest-ranking Republican to support a Democratic bill to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, flipped her stance Wednesday on a key procedural vote.
The Texan essentially voted to filibuster the legislation, reversing the stance she took last month when Congress passed a $35 billion expansion of health insurance coverage for lower-income children that President Bush promptly vetoed.
Despite the switch by Hutchison and Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., the bill cleared the 60-vote hurdle required to survive and is slated for a final vote later this week.
Hutchison, a longtime defender of the SCHIP program, said Wednesday that she cast her vote in protest of the Democrats' refusal to hash out a deal with the White House. She made it clear, though, that she will support the legislation when it comes to a final vote.
"Regrettably, today's procedural vote in the Senate was on SCHIP legislation that was passed by the House without any collaboration with the president," she said. "Some in Congress have chosen to play politics with this issue, rather than sit down and negotiate a bipartisan compromise."
Hutchison urged Democratic leaders to "abandon this political gamesmanship and work toward a bill the president will sign."
But it was a Senate Republican leader, Trent Lott of Mississippi, who forced the bill to the floor even as Democrats were willing to allow more time for the bill's Democratic and Republican supporters to negotiate.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has parted company with Hutchison over the bill, calling it a step towards socialized medicine. In a floor speech Wednesday, he accused the Democrats of putting politics over policy and refusing to negotiate.
"This bill has become just another political football in a game that's been raging for months," he said.
Cornyn, who is up for re-election next year, has seen his opposition to the SCHIP bill used against him by his would-be Democratic rival, state Rep. Rick Noriega, and other Democrats.
Hutchison, in contrast, has been lauded for her years-long support of the children's health program and her fight to retain funding that the state of Texas declined to spend on the program in earlier years.
The Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities, which is pressing for the $35 billion expansion, remains confident of Hutchison's support for the program notwithstanding her vote Wednesday, said associate director Anne Dunkelberg.
"It's an understandable sort of signal of her loyalty to her party and her desire to see a compromise have time to be developed," Dunkelberg said.