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SCHIP Vote Up Again

House Democrats will return a children’s health insurance bill to the floor today — exactly one week after failing to overturn a presidential veto of a similar bill — asserting that several “clarifications” will net them the necessary votes to avoid or overcome a future veto challenge from President Bush.

Republican leaders objected to the planned vote, criticizing Democrats for forcing through a new version of the legislation.

“The bill addresses all of the concerns that were expressed by our colleagues and the president,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at a Wednesday evening press conference on the $35 billion measure designed to include 10 million children. “This is a clarification of the legislation we put forth.”

The new legislation addresses Republican criticisms over the inclusion of childless adults in the program by moving those individuals off the program within a one-year period; it also limits participation in the program to families whose incomes fall within 300 percent of the federal poverty level; and it strengthens prohibitions aimed at preventing illegal immigrants from participating in the program by requiring the Social Security Administration to confirm a participant’s residency status.

Democrats planned to hold a Rules Committee meeting late Wednesday night to set parameters for the debate, a move that Republicans also criticized, asserting they had yet to see the new legislation.

Republicans also complained the Democrats were seeking to jam through the bill without sufficient GOP input and at a time when many Members want to visit California because of the raging fires.

Republicans from California sent Pelosi a letter urging her to hold off on the vote so that Members could visit their districts, and House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) complained that if Democrats were really interested in working with Republicans they would wait until next week to vote on the bill.

“The scope, scale and severity of the fires raging in southern California are of a magnitude few of us have ever seen,” Blunt said in a statement. “What’s important right now is that members from the area be given the chance to return to their districts to aid their constituents in any way they can — whether through casework, disaster relief efforts, or simply lending a hand to a neighbor in need.”

Democrats dismissed that criticism, however, asserting that while Members in both parties are likely to be absent from the vote, it is unlikely to affect the outcome.

“All of Congress is not going to California,” said a senior Democratic aide. “We’re going to have the votes that we need on this.”

Earlier Wednesday, Blunt said he and Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) met briefly with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) hoping to break the partisan logjam on SCHIP but said he wasn’t sure if it would yield fruit.

Blunt said he wasn’t sure how many Republicans might join Democrats on the new bill. “It’s hard to know what you’re going to lose when you don’t know what is in the bill,” he said.

But at least one moderate Republican, who had not seen the new legislation but voted for the previous version of the bill, said he expected his GOP colleagues — 45 of whom voted for the first bill — would do so again.

“Anybody who voted for it … would vote for it again. All the changes are positive,” Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) said. But he encouraged Democrats to take part in a more bipartisan strategy that would attain dozens of Republican votes, rather than the handful needed to defeat a potential veto. “I’m not for a strategy that just picks up a couple of votes and forces the White House’s hand,” he added.

Pelosi said she expected the Senate will take up the legislation if the House passes the measure.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on Wednesday that if the House votes on SCHIP, he will move it in his own chamber as soon as possible.

“It’s rumored that the House is going to pass the SCHIP bill again, if that’s the case, I’m going to do everything I can to get back to that,” he said.

Emily Pierce contributed to this report.

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