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Democrats to present stricter kids’ health bill

WASHINGTON – Just one week after failing to override President Bush’s veto, House Democrats will put a new version of their $35 billion expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program to a vote today, hoping that minor changes will win enough Republicans to beat Bush this round.

The new version will underscore that illegal immigrants will not have access to the expanded program. It will transition adults off the program in one year, rather than the two in the vetoed version. And it establishes a firmer eligibility cap at 300 percent of the federal poverty line, just more than $60,000 for a family of four.

The move took Republican leaders by surprise. Bush administration officials Wednesday voiced conciliation, suggesting the president could accept legislation that would expand the program by about $20 billion over five years, far bigger than the $5 billion expansion that Bush initially proposed. At the same time, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt has been meeting with House and Senate Republicans, urging them to hold the line against an even larger bill. And Bush continues to oppose the tobacco tax increase that Democrats want to fund the measure.

GOP leaders hoped the showdown would be postponed until next week, especially since a number of House members will be traveling with Bush on Friday to tour fire-devastated Southern California.

The new bill seeks to allay concerns laid out by 38 Republicans seeking to vote for the next version. Perhaps most important, it stipulates that applicants must have their Social Security numbers checked by the Social Security Administration. If Social Security cannot confirm citizenship, applicants will be required to provide states with documentation proving eligibility.

To answer criticism that the bill would encourage families with private health insurance onto government-funded health care, the new version adds performance bonuses for states that provide funding to employed parents to cover the additional cost of enrolling their children in their existing private policies.


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