Senate Passes Health Insurance Program for Kids

By MichaelJames

Jan 29, 2009 9:46pm

ABC News’ Z. Byron Wolf reports: Senators voted 66 to 32 tonight to greatly expand funding for states to provide health insurance for children who do not qualify for Medicaid at a cost of $34 billion over five years.

The expansion would be paid for with higher tobacco taxes.

"The real winners tonight are the kids," said Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., just before voting began.

SCHIP was a big issue when President Bush vetoed bipartisan efforts to expand the program in 2007. It passed the Senate at the time with a veto-proof majority — but not the House.

Baucus said the vote tonight "rights a wrong" from 2007.

Republicans did not support tonight’s bill as strongly as they did in 2007. They became frustrated when Democrats, emboldened by their increased majority, scrapped the delicate compromise from 2007 to raise the income levels at which states can apply the funding to more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level in some places.

"If we are really going to bring down the cost of health care for all Americans, we need to work together and get a better understanding of what bipartisanship really means," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who helped write the bill in 2007 but voted "no" tonight because he felt Republicans were cut out of the process.

"Four million uninsured kids down, 40 million Americans to go," Grassley said, foreshadowing a larger fight that is likely if Congress and President Obama try to reform the entire health care system.

A different version of SCHIP reauthorization passed the House. There will either be a conference to resolve the differences or the House could pass the Senate bill.

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