CINCINNATI (TDB) -- And now the White House has confirmed that President Bush intends to veto a push by Congress that would increase spending for the Children's Health Insurance Program, a proposed expansion covering far more than the current 8 million kids. Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, said in a statement this weekend that Bush's senior advisers are "certainly going to recommend" a veto and "there is no question that the president would veto it."
A jump to $1 in the U.S. tax on a pack of cigarettes -- now at 39 cents a pack --would help pay for the federal CHIP expansion. The White House objects to tax hikes.
Bush was in Ohio last week and toured the Cleveland Clinic, a trip designed to shore up his image as a chief executive concerned about the nation's health care system. But he dropped a clear hint that the bipartisan efforts in the Senate to expand CHIP would be met with opposition at the White House.
"The program is going beyond the initial intent of helping poor children. It's now aiming at encouraging more people to go on government health care. It's a way to encourage people to transfer from the private sector to government health-care plans. I think it's wrong and I think it's a mistake."
The Senate hopes to increase CHIP spending by $35 billion, to about $60 billion by 2012. There are estimates the expansion of the program would cut the number of uninsured children by 4.1 million. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, and says the program needs more funds.
"After a successful 10-year history, the CHIP program is up for reauthorization this year. This year, the program will be reauthorized. I know Montana and other states need more funds. Without additional funds by 2010, I am told Montana will have to trims its CHIP enrollment from 13,900 to 8,000 or 9,000. We cannot afford to lose ground in our fight to get kids health coverage. As Chair of the Finance Committee, I will work with my colleagues to develop a reauthorization plan that full funds CHIP going forward and work to cover more eligible by unenrolled kids."
Baucus also gave a statement to the The New York Times, "The president should stop playing politics and start working with Congress to help kids through renewal of this program."
UPDATE: 9:58 am EDT -- In Ohio, there has been agreement already at the state level between Republicans and Democrats that all kids should have health coverage. It is in the new budget that went into effect earlier this month. Here's what Gov. Ted Strickland said in Youngstown just the other day (according to the Vindicator):
"Strickland, who formerly represented part of Mahoning County and all of Columbiana County in Congress, began his presentation at Tod Hall by discussing changes that will be made in the Ohio Children's Health Insurance Program. These will allow children whose families have incomes up to 300 percent of the poverty level to qualify for health insurance.
A family of four at 300 percent of the poverty level would have a family income of $61,650, according to 2007 figures. 'For the first time in Ohio history, I think we can now say as a result of this budget all children in Ohio will have access to affordable health care coverage,' Strickland said.
Children whose family income exceeds 300 percent of the poverty level but have catastrophic health conditions that make it difficult or impossible for them to get health insurance on the private market will be able to buy into the Medicaid program, he said.
'Thousands of children will be covered now,' he said.
As of May, 32 states and the District of Columbia had enacted or announced coverage initiatives for children, according to the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured."