Bush Seeks Middle Ground On Children’s Insurance Bill


By: Wall Street Journal

By SARAH LUECK

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration, looking for compromise on an issue causing heartburn for many Republicans, shifted its position on a major area of disagreement with Congress over a children’s health-insurance bill.

Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said the administration would be willing to support letting states cover health-care for children in families earning as much as 300% of the federal poverty level, or about $60,000 a year for a family of four, in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or Schip. The administration previously opposed permitting states to cover children above the 200% level.

“In order to find common ground, we are prepared to begin having a conversation about those between 200 and 300,” Mr. Leavitt said.

The shift came just before House Democrats announced they would vote today on a children’s health bill, modified to address concerns raised by House Republicans. Democrats hope to sway enough Republicans to their side to override another expected veto by President Bush.
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The shift narrows at least one major difference in the standoff between Mr. Bush and Congress over legislation reauthorizing and expanding the program that provides federal grants to states to help cover health care for low-income children. Mr. Bush vetoed legislation that would have added $35 billion over five years to Schip and expanded coverage to about four million more children. House Democrats attempted to override the veto last week, but failed to win the required two-thirds majority.

The protracted debate over Schip has been difficult for some Republicans who opposed the legislation, as labor groups and other organizations accuse them in a high-profile ad campaign of siding with Mr. Bush over needy children. The administration’s move may help undercut claims from Democrats — and some Republicans — that Mr. Bush has been unwilling to make any concessions to the party that now rules Congress.

Mr. Leavitt’s olive branch came with conditions. He said legislation would have to ensure that states meet a “rigorous” standard of covering children below 200% of the poverty level before they could expand to higher levels. The administration has said that states should have to cover 95% of children below the 200% poverty level before they could expand to higher incomes. But Democrats, and many state officials, say that standard is impossible to meet.

Other differences remain between Democrats and the president. The two sides are far apart on program funding.

House Democrats have modified the legislation that passed Congress, in an effort to pick up more Republican votes. People familiar with the bill said it now wouldn’t permit coverage expansion to children above 300% of the poverty level, would more quickly phase out coverage of adults some states now cover and make more explicit the fact that illegal immigrants wouldn’t be covered. In the Senate, enough Republicans already support the legislation to beat a veto.

Write to Sarah Lueck at sarah.lueck@wsj.com

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