Republican senators are panning reports suggesting that President Bush would veto the State Children’s Health Insurance Program reauthorization bill now making its way through the Senate Finance Committee.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the most senior Republican on the committee, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the most senior Republican on the committee’s health subcommittee, have put out a memorandum warning that the Bush administration SCHIP veto threats could hurt children and inadvertently help Democrats in Congress make SCHIP much bigger and much more expensive.

SCHIP now costs about $5 billion per year.

“It’s disappointing, even a little unbelievable, to hear talk about administration officials wanting a veto of a legislative proposal they haven’t even seen yet — because it isn’t even finalized yet,” Grassley and Hatch say in the memorandum.

Republicans are working with Democrats on the proposal day and night, because reauthorizing the program is so important to helping children, Grassley and Hatch say.

Grassley and Hatch say they want Democrats to keep childless adults out of the program, re-focus the program on low-income children, and hold any increase in funding to $35 billion over 5 years.

Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee want to spend an extra $50 billion, Grassley and Hatch say.

President Bush has proposed providing only $5 billion in additional funding and making commercial health insurance more affordable by changing the tax code.

“What the administration needs to understand is that if a bipartisan plan isn’t achieved, then the Democratic-controlled Congress will, at the very least, extend the current program with all the terrible policy provisions that have evolved, such as waivers for childless adults and coverage for higher-income kids,” Grassley and Hatch say.

If the Democrats simply extend the current program, that would add $24 billion in costs to the current baseline of $25 billion, and, if the Democrats pull away from efforts to negotiate a compromise, they could pass a bill that would add $50 billion in new costs, Grassley and Hatch warn.

Grassley and Hatch express support for the idea of reforming tax treatment of health insurance costs. “But it’s not realistic — given the lack of bipartisan support for the president’s plan — to think that can be accomplished by next week or even before the current children’s health care program runs out in September,” Grassley and Hatch say.