Topping the Democrats’ to-do list when they return to Washington this week is reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The House and Senate passed two different versions of the bill before August recess and now must reconcile the legislation before the program expires at month’s end.
Although the Senate bill passed in August with a veto-proof majority on a 68-31 vote, Democrats won’t be able to push their new bill through the House as easily. Just five House Republicans sided with liberals when the bill came to a vote last month, giving President Bush the backup he needs for a likely veto.
Why the veto threat? Congressional liberals have cleverly packaged a massive expansion of government-provided health care as a simple extension of a popular program for poor kids. In reality, the new SCHIP is no longer about helping only low-income children. It also wants to cover middle-class kids, even though most of them already have private insurance. In fact, the House-passed SCHIP bill incorporates some of the same language used by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton during her 1993 pursuit of socialized medicine..
The question is whether conservatives can do anything to stop SCHIP’s expansion. With the program expiring on Sept. 30, Democrats are under the gun to get something done. That means they just might be in the mood to compromise to avoid a veto -- and the label of a do-nothing Congress.