This vote was on passing a bill that would reauthorize the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) for 4.5 years and increase funding for the program by $32.8 billion. This increase in funding would be paid for through expanding the federal tax on cigarettes to 62 cents per pack and raising taxes on other tobacco products. SCHIP is intended to be a safety net program, providing coverage for children of families who are too poor to purchase private health insurance, but not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid.
“I wish to express my strong support for the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program. At a time when our country is moving in a new direction, it is fitting that we are considering this important measure among the first bills considered this Congress. I believe the extension of CHIP will stand out as one of the great accomplishments of this body. By passing this legislation, we would state clearly that the health of children in this country is an issue too important to be dealt with as business as usual,” said Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
Republicans spent most of their time criticizing how much money the bill would spend, as well as expressing the notion that expanding the SCHIP program would lure too many people away from their current privately-provided health insurance. Some lawmakers also complained that the bill would remove a five-year waiting period for new legal immigrants to enter SCHIP, as well as less strict citizenship and eligibility documentation requirements.
“There is no debate among Republicans concerning access to affordable health care for children—we believe every child should have access to quality affordable health care,” said Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “But we are troubled by the direction the program has taken in recent years. It has strayed from its original purpose—the purpose Republicans support—of providing coverage to low-income, uninsured children.”
By a vote of 66-32, the bill was passed. Every Democrat present voted for the bill. All but nine Republicans present voted against the bill. The end result is that the Senate passed a bill that would reauthorize for 4.5 years the SCHIP program and increase funding by $32.8 billion, paid for mostly through raising the federal tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products.