Congress returns to work Sept. 4 with a huge unfinished agenda on its plate, with many members on both sides of the aisle feeling a sense of urgency that one of the first things they should do is extend the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan, a highly successful program that expires at the end of the current federal fiscal year, Sept. 30.
But at the same time, the uncertainty over what is going to happen with the program is also a microcosm of all that has gone wrong with official Washington.
For example, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, are dedicated supporters of President Bush. But, despite the president’s heavy criticism of efforts in the Senate to expand SCHIP, they both worked hard to help craft the bipartisan bill hammered out in the Senate Finance Committee that constitutes the Senate position on the extension issue.
And they also played a key role in pushing the current Senate bill, which calls for a $35 billion increase in the program over 5 years, through that chamber with a 68-31 vote, a vote designed to send a message to the president that extension of the program has veto-proof support in the Senate.
The president’s position is based on the theory is that the G.O.P can win in 2008 by embellishing voters’ perception of Republicans as the party of fiscal conservatism.
Conservatives in Congress are supporting the president in this latest form of Swift-boating despite the fact that discretionary federal spending has soared 59% since the Republicans took control of both the White House and Congress in 2001.
Yet, despite the fact that President Bush remains comfortable with his position and has shown an ability to consistently stymie the Democrats’ agenda, liberals in the House have come up with comparable legislation that stands little chance of becoming law–but has a strong chance of delaying a final solution for perhaps many months.
In a phrase, the Democrats’ effort, dubbed the CHAMP Act for Children’s Health and Medicare Protection Act, risks creating the perception of House Democrats as a bunch of politically na?ve chumps.
The House bill accomplishes this, first of all, by doubling current expenditures for the SCHIP program to $50 billion over 5 years.
It does so in part by phasing out over 4 years the estimated 12% greater government spending for those enrolled in the Medicare Advantage program, which is provided by private health insurers.
This program was created in the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act.