Senate Democrats Expected To Approve SCHIP Reauthorization, Expansion Legislation This Week
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Friday said the Senate would approve SCHIP reauthorization and expansion legislation this week, CQ Today reports (Jansen, CQ Today, 1/23). Reid said that SCHIP "is a critical program as states begin to run out of money for children's health care," adding, "We're going to start working on this Monday and pass this bill" by the end of the week (Armstrong, CQ Today, 1/23). The program is set to expire on March 31.
Under the expansion bill, which is similar to a measure that former President George W. Bush vetoed in 2007, children in families with incomes of up to three times the federal poverty level would qualify for the program. Supporters of the bill say it will raise the number of children covered by SCHIP from about seven million to about 11 million (Kaiser Health Disparities Report, 1/15). The measure would extend the program for four-and-one-half years and would increase spending by at least $31.5 billion. The bill would be funded mainly by a 61-cent-per-pack increase in the federal cigarette tax and tax increases on other tobacco products (Freking, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 1/24). Senate passage of the measure would trigger a conference with the House, which amended the Senate version into its own bill passed earlier this month.
Republican supporters of past legislation that would have expanded SCHIP have criticized several provisions of the current measure, but "Democrats, with a bigger majority in the new Congress, need their support less now," CQ Today reports. The bill would eliminate a five-year waiting period to qualify for SCHIP coverage for new and documented immigrants, and it includes looser citizenship and eligibility documentation requirements (Armstrong, CQ Today, 1/23). Reid said that he expects the immigration waiting-period waiver to remain in the measure through the Senate amendment process. He said, "Some people want to make this a debate about immigration. This isn't a debate about immigration. It's a debate about taking care of our children, children who are here legally" (Edney, CongressDaily, 1/23).
Republicans also expressed opposition to allowing higher-income families to qualify for SCHIP. Senate Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), said, "I don't believe it's good public policy for a family with an income of $83,000 to be able to get onto SCHIP." However, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said, "It would be irresponsible for the federal government to cap funding to the states when working families need more public assistance, not less" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 1/24).
Reid said, "I hope that we don't have to file cloture" to restrict debate on the bill, adding, "At the end of the week, if we find that there is a wide delay and not a responsiveness to get the bill concluded, then we will decide whether we should do something procedurally" (Armstrong, CQ Today, 1/23).