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SCHIP Bill Update: Senate Republicans Step on the Brakes

WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans are trying to slow the passage of a bill that would finance expanding children's health care with an increased federal tobacco excise tax, arguing that the bill would draw about 2.4 million children away from private insurance into government-sponsored coverage, the Associated Press reported.

The legislation in the Senate would increase spending on the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by $31.5 billion over the next 4.5 years, which would be paid for by a 61-cent increase in the federal excise tax on cigarettes, among other tobacco tax increases.

Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona said about a third of those who gain insurance as a result of the bill would otherwise have access to private insurance.

"We're going to replace a lot of private insurance with government insurance," Kyl told the AP.

In response, Sen. Richard Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, said those arguing the program was too generous to middle-income families are "really out of touch with what these families face."

Kyl also told the AP many Republicans oppose a provision, approved by the House, that lets states use Medicaid or SCHIP to cover children of legal immigrants. Current law requires a five-year waiting period before legal immigrants become eligible for coverage under Medicaid and SCHIP.

Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefellerof West Virginia said, "Five years is a lifetime for a child stricken with cancer or any other life-threatening illness or disability."

However, Republicans lack the votes to block the SCHIP legislation, as Democrats strengthened their majorities in Congress. And, before the bill is sent to President Barack Obama to become law, Senate and House members will have to work out differences in the legislation.

The House passed a similar bill nearly two weeks ago by a vote of 289-139, with 40 Republicans voting in favor of the measure, according to the AP. Obama has said he hopes the Senate will act with the same sense of urgency as the House, so a bill reauthorizing and expanding SCHIP would be one of the first measures he signed into law, the report stated.

In announcing that the Senate would take up the SCHIP bill this week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, said "Jeopardizing the health of American children is not a political victory for anyone. It's a loss for everyone. It's long past time that we corrected it."

CSNews’s Mehgan Belanger speaks out about kids vs. smokes on a recent Spare Change blog post. Click here to read more, and post your thoughts.
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