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Listen Closely to Arguments Against SCHIP

One of the things I’ve learned during my time in Washington, D.C., is to listen not only to what people say, but for what they don’t say. Often, loud complaints about how a bill came to be voted on mean the debater can’t make a convincing argument against the substance of the bill.

A perfect example of this was last week’s Guest Observer from my good friend Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) about the reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (“Congress has a Second Chance to Get SCHIP Right,” Oct. 4). In this piece about the SCHIP bill, there was a lot of complaining about “the process” but nary a word about the substance of the bill. That’s probably because debating the substance of a bill that was supported by 45 House Republicans, garnered a veto-proof majority in the Senate and is favored by more than 70 percent of the American people is usually a losing proposition.

So let’s talk about the SCHIP reauthorization bill and what this bipartisan bill does.

Most importantly, the bipartisan compromise bill preserves coverage for all 6 million children currently in the program. The bill also extends coverage to 4 million additional children who currently are eligible but do not receive coverage because of a lack of funding. This additional funding means thousands more children in my district and thousands more kids in Rep. Barton’s district would get health care coverage. This stands in stark contrast to President Bush’s plans for SCHIP, which would drop coverage for more than 800,000 children currently enrolled in the program.

In addition, our bill would improve the health care that these children will receive by including dental coverage and mental health services. Our bill would help the children who need it most by providing states with incentives and the support needed to enroll the lowest- income uninsured children first. And, unlike legislation passed during the Republican majority, the whole bill is actually paid for, so we aren’t saddling future generations with more debt.

With so many good things to focus on in this bill, opponents have resorted to making things up about the legislation in order to attack it. For example, the Bush administration would have you think this bill only extends coverage to families making $83,000 per year and undocumented immigrants, but as Republicans such as Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Rep. Ray LaHood (Ill.) have repeatedly stated, this is simply untrue.

Furthermore, the myth that our bipartisan bill would allow undocumented immigrants to receive health coverage is flat-out wrong. Section 605 of the bill states, “Nothing in this Act allows Federal payment for individuals who are not legal residents.” The SCHIP bill actually would require for the first time that SCHIP programs establish beneficiaries’ citizenship to enroll — a requirement that currently applies only to Medicaid.

It is sad that the president and the Republican leadership in Congress are trying to deflect attention from their opposition to providing health care for 10 million kids by putting out incorrect information about the bill. The bipartisan SCHIP compromise isn’t perfect; no bill is. But it certainly is a bill we can all be proud of. Don’t just take my word for it, listen to the many House and Senate Republicans who have decided to stand with American’s children and support the reauthorization of SCHIP. I agree wholeheartedly with Sen. Hatch’s assessment that this legislation is “an honest compromise which improves a program that works.”

And as for the process my good friend from Texas so loudly complained about, let’s set a few facts straight. First, the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held no less than five hearings related to SCHIP reauthorization; it was hardly a new topic sprung on Members. Second, during the Energy and Commerce Committee’s markup of the SCHIP bill, Republicans led by Rep. Barton unfortunately chose to have the committee clerk read the bill for two days instead of actually offering their ideas on how to make the bill better. Third, the final bipartisan compromise was put together with full participation of Republicans willing to actually work on the bill. And, finally, “Republicans” didn’t oppose the SCHIP bill; 45 of them voted for the final bill in the House and nearly half of Senate Republicans did.

Rep. Barton was right about one thing in his piece on SCHIP. He does have a second chance to get it right on SCHIP. On Oct. 18 he can reconsider his vote against this bipartisan legislation and vote to override the president’s veto.

Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) serves on the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health. Prior to serving in Congress, she worked for 20 years as a public school nurse and health advocate.

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