House Republicans Stalling Children's Health Measure

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

(1st Add: Includes details on the legislative action on the bill.)

( - The Democratic chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee said Friday morning that he hopes to bring the controversial Children's Health and Medicare Protection (CHAMP) Act out of committee and to the full House of Representatives by the end of the day, despite Republican efforts to stall the process.

The CHAMP Act would reauthorize and expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), a federally funded program that now provides health care coverage to low-income children who don't qualify for Medicaid.

The 465-page bill was introduced late Tuesday night and Democrats hope to move it through the committee and full House before the August recess.

Republicans are in no mood to fast track the bill, however. They object to Democratic plans to more than double SCHIP funding. They also have complained about several immigration provisions that could open the health coverage to illegal immigrants.

Republicans have requested a standard legislative hearing on the bill, a request the Democratic leadership has rejected.

The committee was in session until late Thursday night reading the 465-page bill until Republicans agreed to dispense with the reading and recess the committee until Friday morning.

As the committee resumed work on Friday, Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.), expressed the hope "that we can, in the process of this committee, report the piece of legislation to the floor before this day is out."

But Republicans made it clear they intend to stall the legislation with procedural maneuvers in response to the Democratic efforts to fast-track it.

Texas Rep. Joe Barton, the original sponsor of alternative Republican legislation, spearheaded the stall tactic by introducing his 39-page bill as an amendment attached to the 465-page Democratic version.

The move means committee clerk Sharon Davis must read the entire 504-page amendment aloud before action will be taken, even though most of the pages will be nullified by the last 39 pages.

"We are reading the amendment, 465 pages of which is expressly by its own language not relevant," Dingell said, later joking that "the chair will buy everybody a margarita if we get down to business here."

Democrats on the committee tried to convince Republicans that only the 39 relevant pages should be read, but Republicans led by Barton refused. "The whole purpose of reading the bill is not to be dilatory," Barton insisted. He said Republicans want the American people to know what the Democratic version of the bill says.

Barton has offered to dispense with the long reading if Democrats agree to postpone the committee markup on the bill until next week -- after the committee holds legislative hearings on the measures. Dingell has refused, citing the urgency of passing the reauthorization before SCHIP expires in September.

"The [Democratic] leadership is pressing to have this bill moved and to be on the floor at an early time, that is before the [August] recess," Dingell said Thursday. "We have a significant problem to address in terms of the simple fact that if we do not move this fast enough, we're going to find that there are going to be an awful lot of kids who ... no longer have a health insurance program."

"We understand that the SCHIP program expires on September 30th and we want to reauthorize the program through the House of Representatives and send it to the Senate," Barton said Thursday. But he complained that representatives haven't had enough time to fully examine the bill, which was introduced late Tuesday night.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has the power to bypass the contentious debate and take the CHAMP Act to the House floor because the Ways and Means Committee approved the bill late Thursday night by a 24-17 vote. Spokesmen for Pelosi were not immediately available to comment.

See Earlier Stories:
GOP Offers Alternative to Dem Plan to Double Size of Kids' Health Program (July 26, 2007)
Politicians Debate Government's Role in Health Care (July 24, 2007)

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