Congressional delegation, Douglas differ on children’s health compromise

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas and the members of Vermont’s congressional delegation are at odds over future funding of a federal health insurance program for children.

The issue is how much should Congress compromise in order to reach an agreement with the White House over this program.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Last week, the U.S. House sustained the president’s veto of a children’s health care program known as S-CHIP. In Vermont this money is used to help finance the Dr. Dynosaur program.

Both Douglas and the three members of Vermont’s congressional delegation supported efforts to override the veto.

But now the issue is how far should Congress go to reach an agreement with the White House and Vermont’s political leaders are divided on that question.

Senator Bernie Sanders doesn’t want to compromise. Sanders wonders how the President can spend $10 billion a month to fund the war in Iraq but can’t support $7 billion a year to expand children’s health care.

(Sanders) I think that that is totally absurd. I think that the Congress has got to stand tall. I think the American people want us to stand tall. I personally believe that every kid in America should have health insurance and I think we have got to tell the President, `Sorry, we’re going to be sending the legislation back to you and if you want to continue to veto it that’s your right. But our job is to make sure that kids in this country have health insurance.’"

(Kinzel) Congressman Peter Welch says he’s willing to make some small changes to the bill, but Welch is in no mood to make major concessions.

(Welch) "I certainly do not want to bargain away kids and their access to health care. This bill is going to cover 10 million kids and I don’t want to start nickel and diming with the President about whether we lower that by a half a million or 2 million."

(Kinzel) Governor Douglas expects to be part of the negotiations because he serves as the chairman of the Health Committee of the National Governors’ Association.

The legislation passed by Congress allocated an additional $35 billion over the next five years – the President proposed $5 billion over the same time period. Douglas says $20 billion is a reasonable compromise.

(Douglas) "We have to find some middle ground. We have to find a bill that the president will sign, that the Congress can agree to because all this posturing doesn’t insure a single child. There are some states around the country that are literally out of money now. Fortunately Vermont is not among them, but some states are really feeling the pinch."

(Kinzel) Funding for the program runs out in the middle of next month. If a compromise can’t be reached by that time, Douglas says no children in Vermont will be removed from the program because the state will be able to fund Dr. Dynosaur by using surplus money in its Medicaid budget.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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