Sunday, October 28, 2007

Another attempt at socialized medicine in the USA

The House passed a revised children's health proposal Thursday, but not by the two-thirds margin that supporters will need if President Bush vetoes the measure as promised. The 265-142 vote was a victory for Bush and his allies, who urged House Republicans to reject Democrats' claims that changes to the legislation had met their chief concerns. If the same vote occurs on a veto override attempt, Bush will prevail, as he did earlier this month when he vetoed a similar bill. The tally was seven votes short of a two-thirds majority. Several House members were absent.

Liberal groups continue to run attack ads against Republicans siding with Bush on the issue, which many Democrats consider a winner for their party. Democratic leaders said changes to the bill, which would add $35 billion to the State Children's Health Insurance Program, had addressed critics' concerns about participation by adults, illegal immigrants and families able to afford health insurance. But GOP leaders called the changes insignificant and politically motivated.

The decade-old health program is aimed at families that do not qualify for Medicaid but are too poor to afford medical insurance. As with the bill Bush vetoed, the revised measure would add would $35 billion over five years, financed by a 61-cent increase in the federal excise tax on a pack of cigarettes. Under the revisions, the program would exclude families earning more than three times the federal poverty rate. Low-income childless adults, which some states cover, would be phased out in one year. And states would have to be more rigorous in checking the validity of applicants' Social Security numbers, an effort to exclude illegal immigrants.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, likened the revisions to "window-dressing rather than substantive changes." However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the legislation "has the support of the American people." Before Thursday's vote, the White House announced that Bush would veto the revised bill because it does too little to enroll low-income families ahead of those somewhat better off, and because it would cost more than the earlier bill. Democrats said it would cost more because it would cover more low-income children, the program's chief goal. The program now covers 6 million children, and the bill would enroll another 4 million if it becomes law.

On Oct. 18 the House voted 273-156 to override Bush's veto, 13 votes short of a two-thirds majority. Forty-four Republicans joined 229 Democrats in voting to override. Democrats and their GOP allies this week targeted 38 House Republicans who voted to sustain Bush's veto and later outlined their concerns in a letter. The revised bill addressed those concerns, Pelosi said. But Republicans were angry that Pelosi insisted on a vote Thursday, rather than giving lawmakers more time to study the bill and seek GOP converts. "Bringing the bill up today, with no time to even read it, is either a terrible mistake or an intentional partisan maneuver," said Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., who supported the vetoed bill.

Pelosi said the House needed to act this week "because this fits into our legislative calendar." If Republicans support the health program's expansion, she said, "they won't be looking for an excuse to oppose this bill." Democrats said Thursday's vote was not the final test. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate will vote on the bill next week, when passage by a veto-proof margin is considered likely. If Bush then vetoes the measure, the House could again seek a two-thirds majority to override. But Wilson and others said Republicans will be loathe to vote against Bush on the override question if they voted against the bill this week.

Both parties accused the other of turning the debate over children's health insurance into a political game. "It's unfortunate that even after a week of meetings and adjustments to the bill at the Republicans' request, that they would still apparently prefer to play politics instead of reauthorizing a program the vast majority of the country supports," said Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois. Boehner said in a floor speech: "This bill is not going to become law." "If you're tired of the political games," he said, "if you're tired of Congress' approval rating being at these ridiculous levels, let's all just vote no."


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