House tries again with health care

The House voted 265-142 on Thursday to support a children's health insurance proposal similar to the one President Bush rejected earlier this month, but failed to muster the veto-proof majority that Democrats had sought.

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., voted against the revised proposal that this time proponents said lowered the number of adults and middle-income families eligible for health care under the State Children's Health Insurance Program, known as SCHIP.

The 10-year-old program is designed for families that earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to buy medical insurance easily. The popular program was created by a Republican-led Congress as part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.

Walden spokesman Andrew Whelan said in an e-mailed statement to the Tidings that the revised proposal "really isn't much different from the previous version," noting that bill still would take people off of private insurance rolls and that up to 75,000 adults could be covered. Also at issue, he said, was the timing of the bill.

"We received the bill at 8 p.m. last night, obliterating the 24-hour rule for members to read legislation before voting on it," Whelan said on Thursday. "That's disappointing as Congressman Walden supports expanding SCHIP and has stood ready to work with the majority on an extension. They never reached out to us."

In a statement after Thursday's vote, the Silverton-based Oregon Center for Public Policy lashed out at Walden, questioning his sincerity when he says that he supports reauthorizing the program that covers about 2,500 children in Jackson County.

"The bill that the House voted on today was modified to address specifically the concerns of Representative Walden and 38 other Republican representatives expressed in a letter to the White House one week ago," said Janet Bauer, policy analyst for the left-leaning group.

"With children losing health coverage, it is time for Representative Walden to tell the people of Oregon how he proposes to insure the 10 million children that the House bill would cover," she added.

The White House has said it is willing to expand the program by more than the $5 billion that Bush proposed originally, but at issue remains the 61 cents per pack increase in the federal excise tax, to $1, on tobacco products that would fund the $35 billion Democratic-backed expansion.

"In some ways, this bill is worse than the previous bill. It raises taxes on working Americans to move people from private insurance to public assistance. No tax increase of any kind is needed to fund this program," said White House Spokesman Tony Fratto.

Under the House-approved plan, states cannot cover children in families with incomes more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $60,000 for a family of four, and childless adults covered by the program would be eased off in a year rather in two years by the previous proposal.

Also to help allay GOP concerns that the program would extend health care benefits to illegal immigrants, the new proposal also contains provisions allowing states more leeway to vigorously verify applicants' Social Security numbers.

Republicans had urged the Democratic leadership to postpone the SCHIP since some of its members were in their Southern California districts, where wildfires have raged for several days.

covers politics for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at

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