ABC News’ Z. Byron Wolf Reports: Conservative Senators and the White House have taken a PR beating on the Children’s Health Insurance Program that Congress is set to renew and expand. Who wouldn’t want to give poor kids health insurance? The bill is slowly marching toward its veto. Final votes in the Senate will occur either Thursday or Friday.
Wednesday, Republicans who will oppose the SCHIP bill in the Senate gave a press conference to voice their side of the story. They want to cover the poor kids, they argued, but this bill doesn’t cover poor kids. It covers illegal aliens and middle class kids and adults. (Supporters have an argument to refute each of these claims).
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said the bill "goes beyond the mission" of giving health insurance to poor kids.
Senator John Ensign, who as the head of the Republican Senate campaign effort could feel the brunt of politically unpopular positions like opposing the SCHIP in the coming general election, said "We are trying to take this issue out of politics and put it back where it belongs, which is to cover children."
"Somebody in New Jersey making 70 or 80 thousand dollars a year… why should my tax dollars be going to pay for them?" Ensign asked. Supporters dispute the assertion that people making that much money would benefit from the program. The Bush administration recently denied a request by New York to extend benefits to families at those levels.
To that end, the number two Senate Republican, Trent Lott, is asking for Democrats to pass an 18 month extension of the program instead of moving now to expand it.
"This is a program for children. And yet its been expanded massively," Lott said. "Lets don’t put the benefits going to these children at risk," he added later, implying that the veto and temporary extension Democrats plan could jeopardize the program in the long run.
He pointed out that the SCHIP program began when Republicans controlled Congress in the mid-90s and they, as much as Democrats, want to see it continued.
"We started this program. We want it to work for low-income children."
Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said the extension offered by Democrats and moderate Republicans doesn’t focus on covering poor kids at all.
"Its not focused on children," Chambliss said. "This bill allows adults to be covered and that’s wrong."
There are some states where the parents of low-income children and some single adults are covered under the program, but supporters argue that under the expansion, those adults would be moved to Medicaid.
Arizona Republican Jon Kyl said the sponsors of the bill don’t really want to sponsor the poor kids, but to expand nationalized health care.
"So you can see what is the intent of the sponsors of this bill," Kyl said. "Its to expand the public system."