WASHINGTON – The State Children's Health Insurance Program goes too far in covering adults and families above the poverty line, a Republican senator said Sunday, while his Democratic colleague argued that refusing to cover children's health ends up costing Americans much more in the future.
Those were the main arguments posited by Sens. Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on "FOX News Sunday." The senators spoke about the expanded program — approved by both chambers of Congress last week — ahead of an expected veto by President Bush.
The Senate, which saw 18 Republicans support the $35 billion expanded plan, has enough votes for an override. The House of Representatives, which voted for the bill 265-259 last Tuesday, falls short of the two-thirds vote needed to turn back the president's veto.
Speaking with FOX News' Chris Wallace, the senators agreed on the goal of increasing coverage of the poorest children in the country, but Lott argued that coverage now extends to families whose incomes are 400 percent above the poverty line.
"One of the things that really bothers me about what the Congress did, again, in a political 'gotcha' move, was to say — to take out a provision that the administration says look, for those states that want to go above this 200 percent of poverty, at least first make sure you've insured or you've covered 95 percent of the poor kids before you start going up the income ladder and including adults. That is taken out by this bill," Lott said.
Schumer said any waivers above 200 percent requires administration approval, something President Bush has given to states several times already. He said the expanded coverage — which applies to about 6 million children and 700,000 adults — is aimed at helping the average family, which finds it difficult to afford health care.
"The average health care cost per family is about $1,500 a month, $20,000 a year. There are people way above the poverty level who have a rough time affording $20,000 a year, and lots of kids go uncovered. And we're all hurt as a country when a child is not covered by health care and goes to school sick. In one way or another, they lose out for the rest of their lives in many ways," he said.
Lott added that he thinks it's a political sleight of hand to say the bill is paid for with an increase in the tobacco tax when the whole point of the tax is to get people to stop smoking, thereby reducing the income for the program.
"It's got about a $40 billion shortfall over a 10-year period, and they fund it with a 61-cents-a-pack tax increase, bringing it to $1, and say, 'By the way, that will discourage people from smoking.' That's good," Lott said. "But the problem is if people do stop smoking, you won't have the money and the program won't be paid for. Then you'll have to either cut the program or raise taxes somewhere else. Typical Washington — now you see it, now you don't."
Schumer countered that the bill has strong incentives for people to stay with private health care coverage, thereby limiting the amount of money the government will be forced to spend. He also said getting coverage for the nation's children is a mandate from the public and a broad bipartisan issue.
"The bill has strong incentives to encourage people to stay on if they have insurance. But that is not a good reason to tell nine million children in America who are not covered that they can't get coverage. This is — we are the only western country that doesn't do this. We paid for it with a tobacco tax. The CBO says it will pay for the bill. And the American people are overwhelmingly for this," Schumer said.
Lott, who said that 18 Republicans voted for the $35 billion bill because the alternative was to vote and lose against a much pricier bill, suggested that Democrats would be playing irresponsible partisan politics by continuing to drive the same bill back to the president without making substantial revisions and reaching compromise. The president's veto is likely to come early this week.