New clout gives Dems upper hand on health bill

Associated Press | 1/28/2009, 8:11 a.m.

“It would be irresponsible for the federal government to cap funding to the states when working families need more public assistance, not less,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat.

Republicans are expected to push for an amendment that would keep children of newer legal immigrants out of SCHIP or Medicaid. By allowing for such coverage, they claim Democrats have turned what could have been a simple renewal of SCHIP into a debate about immigration.

“Why would anyone want to bring one of the most divisive and contentious and passionate issues of the last decade into this debate?” Roberts said during a Senate Finance Committee hearing.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that investing in children’s health coverage brings savings down the road because those kids are more likely to become productive adults.

“Some people want to make this a debate about immigration. This isn’t a debate about immigration,” Reid said. “It’s a debate about taking care of our children, children who are here legally.”

The money to pay for expanding the program would come from a 61-cents per pack increase in the tax on cigarettes, as well as tax increases on other tobacco products.

The Congressional Budget Office projects that the extra spending would allow 4 million uninsured children to gain coverage through Medicaid and SCHIP through 2013. Another 2.3 million will join the program after previously getting private insurance.

(Associated Press)