Congress appears to be on track for another major standoff with President Bush. The Washington Post reports today that the House and Senate have reconciled their differing versions of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP or CHIP) expansion and will be voting on it this coming week (Tuesday in the House, Thursday in the Senate). Predictably, President Bush still promises a veto of this bipartisan compromise legislation, a position he took long before the bill was voted on in either chamber.
The current bill, which calls for a $35 billion expansion of SCHIP over the next five years, most closely resembles the version passed by the Senate in August 2nd. Passed one day before, the original House version was much more ambitious, instead reaching for a $47 billion expansion. Unfortunately, the House version passed by a tight 225-204, along party lines. The Senate version, however, passed by a veto-proof 68-31 majority, and there are hopes that such a supermajority can be assembled in the House to override the Bush veto threat.
This $35 billion increase would enable 3.3 million new children to gain access to health care through SCHIP and would be paid for exclusively by cigarette taxes. To put this into perspective, the SCHIP expansion could be fully paid for by the cost of just 49 days of the war in Iraq, based on current estimates. And, that would fund this expansion for five years!
Until it is renewed with the current legislation, SCHIP expires this month. If it wasn’t for the veto threat, there would not be an issue. However, President Bush’s actions are now causing a great deal of uncertainty in the lives of the 6.6 million children who currently depend on the program. Hopefully, either Bush will stop being so obstinate and do the reasonable thing of passing the SCHIP expansion, or Congress will act swiftly to override his veto.