Congressmen Debate Over Healthcare Bill

Rep. Charles Rangel, Rep. Adam Putnam
Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla.

After President Bush vetoed a health insurance bill that he said is fiscally irresponsible, Democrats in Congress are trying to override his veto, but, in what has become a fierce political battle, they appear to be 15 votes short.

The bill passed by Congress would fund and expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, a partnership between the federal and state governments that provides health insurance to children in families with incomes too great for Medicaid eligibility but not enough to afford private insurance.

An override requires a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate. The Senate approved the increase by a veto-proof margin, but the House fell about two dozen votes short of a two-thirds majority. The House has scheduled an override vote for Oct. 18.

"The president's position is indefensible," Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said on Face The Nation. "Even the Christian right would believe that investing in our young people's health is not only the moral thing to do, but if we're looking for a productive, educated future society, we have to protect our young people."

Rangel, the Chairman of the Ways and Mean Committee, said that the President is really more concerned about the cigarette tax the Democrats proposed to help pay for the child healthcare program.

"But we had to choose between the cigarette tax and protecting 10 million children and giving them health care," Rangel told Bob Schieffer. "These are not the poorest of the poor, but they're hard-working people who don't have health insurance."

But chairman of the House Republican Conference Rep. Adam Putnam of Florida said the blame for holding up health insurance for children lays with the Democrats.

After his veto, President Bush immediately signaled a willingness to compromise on a new bill, but congressional Democrats stood firm.

"It is the Democrats in the House, under Charlie Rangel's leadership, who have delayed the vote on this by two weeks," he said. "We could solve this problem easily in less than two weeks if he would just sit down and work with us."

Putnam said Democrats have attached so many other things to the SCHIP bill that money would be diverted away from poor children.

"The administration and the Republicans in Congress believe that we should have a 90 or 95 percent enrollment rate of those kids who are already eligible to receive this very important program before you divert that money into other things, which is what the Democratic bill does," he said.

Now it's up to Rangel to try to persuade Republicans to come over to his side on this issue. Rangel said that the Democrats already conceded to the Republicans by allocating $35 billion rather than the $50 billion they wanted for the bill and if they allow the president to get what he wants; 1 million children will go uninsured.

"The truth of the matter is that this program is for working families with kids that are uninsured," Rangel said.

In a warning to Democratic leaders who have pledged to stick with their $35 billion increase, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said Mr. Bush would not waver despite attempts to override his veto last week.

Leavitt told the Associated Press that the Democratic-controlled Congress, not the Republican administration, would pay the political price if SCHIP stalls due to gridlock.