CHILDREN'S HEALTH INSURANCE PROGRAM REAUTHORIZATION ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - September 27, 2007)
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Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, 10 years ago a Republican Congress created a program that had a worthy and straightforward goal: health insurance for kids whose parents made too little to afford private coverage but too much to qualify for Government help. Millions of children were caught between rich and poor, we wanted to help, and thanks to the State Children's Health Insurance Program, we did.
The program has been a success. Since SCHIP's creation, the uninsured rate for children in families earning between about $20,000 and $40,000 a year has dropped by 25 percent. Last year it covered more than 6 1/2 million kids. Today the number of uninsured children within the income group we originally targeted is down to about one million nationwide.
Republicans were ready to finish the good work we started with SCHIP, and we approached its reauthorization this year as an opportunity to do just that, to reach out to the kids in our original target area who should be covered by SCHIP but weren't.
Meanwhile, our friends on the other side had another idea: following the lead of a number of State Governors, they decided to expand SCHIP beyond its original mandate and bring us down the path of Government-run healthcare for everyone.
These Governors started with adults and children from middle and upper middle-income families. Taking SCHIP funds that were originally meant for children from poor families, they spent it on these other populations instead. Then they turned around and said they didn't have enough money to cover the poor children in their States. Which is absurd. This is a capped entitlement. The dollar amount is fixed. If you are spending it on adults, you have already decided not to spend it on the children who need it most. And that is wrong.
New Jersey, under the leadership of one of our former Senate colleagues, helped lead the way. Rejecting a rule that limits SCHIP funds to the poor children, New Jersey now uses SCHIP for adults, and for children in families that earn as much as $72,275 a year.
For millions of hard-working Americans who have to pay for their insurance, it doesn't seem right that they should have to subsidize the families in New Jersey who can and should be paying for their own. And a lot of poor families in New Jersey are also right to wonder why Trenton is suddenly enrolling middle-class families for SCHIP when their kids still lack coverage--about 120,000 of them by one count.
This is the kind of SCHIP expansion that Democrats want in all 50 States. They want to continue to expand it, pulling more and more middle-income children and adults off the private market and onto public coverage, driving private insurance costs up, driving the overall quality of health care down.
Not every State is abusing the rules. Kentucky runs its version of SCHIP, KCHIP, in a financially responsible way. We even have money left over from years past. But under the Democrats' reauthorization plan, Washington would take those extra funds and send them to States like New York and New Jersey that spend more than they get. As a result, even the expanded SCHIP program would leave Kentuckians with less SCHIP funding in the coming fiscal year.
Kentuckians don't want the money they have targeted for poor children going to adults and middle-class families in other states that can afford insurance on its own. KCHIP's money goes where it should be going: to low-income kids who need it most.
Right now, KCHIP serves about 50,000 kids in Kentucky, but there are a lot more who could be covered and aren't. We need to focus on them before expanding SCHIP program to new populations. And the Republican proposal I cosponsored with the other Republican leaders would do just that.
Until this year, SCHIP had been a bipartisan program and a bipartisan success. But in yet another sign that no good deed goes unpoliticized by Democrats in the 110th Congress, our Democratic friends accuse Republicans who want to reauthorize SCHIP of shortchanging it, of shortchanging children. Which is also absurd. We want to improve the program we have got, not expand it into areas it was never meant to go.
Of course some of the news organizations are running with the story. They seem to have forgotten that basic rule of politics that anytime somebody accuses you of opposing children they've either run out of arguments or they are trying to distract you from what they are really up to. And what our friends on the others side are up to is clear: they have taken SCHIP hostage, and what they want in exchange is Republican support for Government-run healthcare courtesy of Washington.
They tried that about 15 years ago, the American people loudly rejected it when they realized it would nationalize about a seventh of the economy, and they don't like Government health care any better now.
The first priority for Senate Republicans is reauthorizing SCHIP for the kids who need it. And we have demonstrated that commitment. Early last month, the Republican leadership proposed the Kids First Act, which allocates new funds for outreach and enrollment so SCHIP can reach 1.3 million more children than it already does. Our bill also pays for this outreach, without gimmicks and without raising taxes.
When Democrats rejected Kids First, Republicans introduced a bill to extend the current program to cover kids at risk of losing coverage until the debate over its future is resolved. While our friends on the other side were issuing press releases and playing politics, Republicans were looking for ways to make sure SCHIP funds didn't run out.
When this bill is vetoed, no one should feign surprise. They have known since July the President would veto any proposal that shifted SCHIP's original purpose of targeting health care dollars to low-income children who need them most.
Our Democratic colleagues have no excuse for bringing us to this point. But then again, this is the game they have played all year: neglect the real business of Government in favor of the political shot. Dozens of votes on Iraq that everyone knows won't lead to a change in policy. Three hundred investigations into the executive branch. And what is the result? We have less than 100 hours left in the current fiscal year, and Democrats haven't sent a single appropriations bill to the President's desk. This ought to put the 110th Congress into the Do-Nothing Hall of Fame.
Less than 100 hours before a health insurance program for poor children expires, and Democrats are counting down the hours so they can tee up the election ads saying Republicans don't like kids. Meanwhile, they are using SCHIP as a Trojan horse to sneak Government-run health care into the States.
This isn't just a Republican hunch. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, families that have private insurance are switching over to SCHIP in States that allow it. The junior Senator from New York has proposed a plan that would raise the eligibility rate to families of four that earn $82,600 a year--this, despite the fact that roughly nine out of ten children in these families have private health insurance already.
But of course that is not the point. The point is pursuit of a nationalized Government-run health care controlled by a Washington bureaucracy. Some Democrats have admitted what this is all about. The chairman of the Finance Committee recently put it this way: ``We're the only country in the industrialized world that does not have universal coverage,'' he said. ``I think the Children's Health Insurance Program is another step to move toward universal coverage.''
While Democrats are busy looking for ways to shift this program away from its original target, the deadline for reauthorization looms. Republicans have made this reauthorization a top priority. If Democrats want to expand Government-run health care, they should do it in the light of day, without seeking cover under a bill that was meant for poor children, and without the politics. Republicans can take the shots. But the poor kids who we were originally trying to help shouldn't be caught in the middle.
I yield the floor.
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