Douglas, Welch urge Bush not to veto SCHIP bill

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas and Representative Peter Welch are urging President Bush not to veto legislation that would expand a national children’s health insurance program.


VPR’s John Dillon reports:


(Dillon) Governor Douglas is chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee for the National Governor’s Association. And in that role, he traveled to Washington recently to call on the Bush Administration to support expansion of the health insurance program for children.


The president has vowed to veto the bill, because it expands coverage to children whose parents make up to 300% of the federal poverty level. Douglas says a veto would be a big mistake.


(Douglas) The President has some views that are strongly held, that I don’t understand to be perfectly honest. The Congress has passed some bills that are very generous in their expansion of SCHIP authorizations. They need to come together and find some common ground so that the millions of American kids who depend on this program are not held hostage.


(Dillon) The bill that’s expected to pass this week would reauthorize the program and expand enrollment from about 6.6 million children to 11 million.


It also provides an additional $35 billion over the next five years. The money would be raised through an increase in the tobacco tax.


Douglas says a presidential veto would not hurt Vermont immediately.


(Douglas) But there are at least a dozen states, maybe as many as 20, that will literally be out of money at the end of September unless there is some reauthorization.


(Dillon) The White House says the government shouldn’t be paying for health coverage for middle income families. For a family of four, 300% of the federal poverty level is about $62,000 a year.


But Congressman Peter Welch says even at that income level, health care is hard to afford.


(Welch) Many of these people can’t afford it, they don’t have health care for themselves, even though they’re working two jobs. And this program allows working families to have some security that their children, if they get sick, are going to be able to see a doctor. And I think that’s a good thing.


(Dillon) If the president does veto the bill, Congress is likely to pass a temporary spending measure that funds the program at its current level.


But Douglas says that will amount to a budget cut, because the cost of health care continues to rise.


For VPR News, I’m John Dillon.

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