The top Republicans on House health care subcommittees are asking Democratic counterparts for joint talks on the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Reauthorization bill.

The House Energy and Commerce already today is meeting to review H.R. 3162, the Children’s Health and Medicare Protection Act.

SCHIP is set to expire Sept. 30.

The Senate is considering a bill that would increase funding to an average of $12 billion per year over the next 5 years, from $5 billion today, and the Bush administration wants Congress to increase funding to only $6 billion per year and to use a cap on the group health tax break to offer equal tax treatment for individuals who buy their own health coverage.

H.R. 3126 would increase program funding to $15 billion per year.

Both the Senate bill and the House bill would increase federal tobacco taxes, and the House bill would raise additional funding by shifting some Medicare Advantage funding to SCHIP.

Bush has threatened to veto the current Senate SCHIP bill or the House SCHIP bill if either reaches his desk.

Reps. Joseph Barton, R-Texas, the most senior Republican on the House and Energy Committee, and James McCrery, R-La., the most senior Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, now have written a letter asking the Democratic chairmen of those committees to let them have some influence over the House SCHIP reauthorization bill.

“We request the normal legislative hearings be held on this proposal …to help members of both parties fully grasp the implications of the proposal to children, to all of our constituents, and to the taxpayers who will finance it,” Barton and McCrery write in the letter.

“Members are attempting to learn the details of this important proposal right now, and a hearing will provide a fair and honest opportunity to do it and do it the right way,” Barton and McCrery write.

A health insurance lobbyist says Republicans in the House are seeking joint talks about the SCHIP bill because they want to support children but oppose what they feel to be bad policy.

“The Democrats drafting the bill are telling the Republicans that, ‘We are not interested in discussions,” the lobbyist says. “The Republicans have been completely shut out.”

Democrats, too, are “fractured” over the substance of the bill, and the debate over the bill will be “very messy and bloody,” the lobbyist predicts.

Because of all the controversy, Congress may just pass a 1-year program extension, the lobbyist says.