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The Oklahoman - Senators Reject Coburn's Health Amendment

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Location: Washington, DC

The Oklahoman - Senators Reject Coburn's Health Amendment

By Chris Casteel

In the midst of a heated debate in Washington over health insurance for children, Sen. Tom Coburn issued a challenge to his colleagues: Give up all of the earmarked projects in a massive spending bill until all needy kids have medical coverage.

"This is going to speak volumes to the American public about our priorities," Coburn, R-Muskogee, said last week when he offered an amendment to the spending bill for the Health and Human Services Department "It is either going to be kids or it is going to be us."

Latest development

On a 68-26 vote, senators on Tuesday overwhelmingly defeated Coburn's amendment to strip all of the special projects from the bill, after one senator charged that it did nothing to actually provide health care coverage for children.

The battle was just the latest in Coburn's war against the home-state projects inserted by lawmakers into the annual spending bills. Coburn got a rare victory last week when he was able to strip $1 million for a New York museum commemorating the 1969 Woodstock music festival.

The proposal

The Coburn amendment would have eliminated more than 1,000 earmarks valued at nearly $500 million until the secretary of Health and Human Services certified that all children have health insurance.

"The cost of a single earmark in this bill — a $42 million handout to the United Nations' International Labor Organization — could have been used to purchase health insurance for more than 18,000 low-income children," said Coburn, a physician.

Opposing voice

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said some of the earmarks in the bill actually would go to children's health care.

Among the earmarks, Harkin said, was one for construction of a nursery at St. Anthony's Hospital in Oklahoma City.

"The Coburn amendment doesn't put one cent into children's health," but would eliminate funding for children's hospitals, vision care on Indian reservations and other purposes, Harkin said.

Other options

Harkin said that if Coburn was concerned about health care for children he could have voted for legislation last month expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

"That bill would have provided health insurance to millions of children who don't have any," Harkin said.

Coburn said that legislation wasn't totally funded and would have provided government coverage to people who can get private insurance. The bill was approved by a large majority of the Senate but the House last week failed to override President Bush's veto.

Also in Washington ...

Congress took steps Tuesday to reduce the high rate of suicides among former members of the armed forces, but only after a gun rights senator succeeded in removing a plan to track veterans treated for mental illnesses.

The suicide prevention bill, which was passed 417-0 and sent to President Bush for his signature, comes amid growing concerns over mental health issues borne by veterans who have seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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