Reid Hints That Minor Tweaks Could Lead To SCHIP Breakthrough

Democrats know they're getting a good ride out of the SCHIP debate, which is why they have steadfastly refused to compromise on getting 10 million kids covered at a cost of $35 billion over five years.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), on Tuesday signaled that he's willing to accept a few small tweaks to the legislation, without compromising on the dollar figure or the number of children covered under the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

While both sides are posturing and holding heated press conferences as the SCHIP override vote approaches on Thursday, House and Senate aides have begun to discuss how to very modestly adjust the bill's language in order to lure just a dozen or so House Republicans to vote for the legisation and achieve a veto proof majority in both chambers. The Senate already has a veto proof majority, but the House is about least two dozen votes short.

One idea being floated would be to explicitly say that families making $80,000 a year would not be eligible for the program, even though no state offers benefits to people making that much money. Another small tweak could be straightforward language that bans undocumented immigrants from receiving SCHIP benefits.

While these tweaks would do nothing to change the dollar amount or the number of kids covered, it may be just enough political cover for reluctant Republicans to switch sides and embrace the popular program. Such changes would also address two of the major Republican talking points against the legislation. None of these ideas have been officially proposed, but aides involved with the issue say they could quickly become key discussion points in the future.

"If the president wants to save face and cover up what he’s done, yes," Reid said, when asked about the potential for minor changes in the bill. "If he wants to tweak something so he can say ‘they capitulated’ … if it accomplishes the same thing [covering same number of kids], sure.” 

Don't expect any real movement on SCHIP negotiations until after the Thursday veto override vote. But as soon as that roll call is done, the real negotiations may begin.