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DCCC: SCHIP Hurts GOP

In another sign that House Democrats view the SCHIP stalemate as beneficial to their 2008 political fortunes, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) told his colleagues on Monday that DCCC polling proves the issue is weakening the re-election prospects of incumbent Republicans.

Van Hollen, in a Nov. 5 letter circulated within the House Democratic Caucus and obtained by Roll Call, revealed that internal DCCC surveys showed Democratic challengers gaining ground because of the battle over the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Van Hollen contended that Republicans who refuse to back the Democratic proposal to extend SCHIP could face a voter revolt in their home districts.

“Last week we saw the latest evidence that our fight to provide health coverage to 10 million children through SCHIP is continuing to resonate with the American people — especially in key Congressional districts,” Van Hollen wrote. “As [DCCC poll] findings confirm, vulnerable Republicans who continue to vote in lock step with George Bush against SCHIP will be held accountable by their constituents.”

Van Hollen cited internal DCCC polling in Michigan’s 9th district, where Democrats are targeting Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R), and in Missouri’s 9th district and Virginia’s 2nd district, held by Reps. Kenny Hulshof (R) and Thelma Drake (R), respectively.

Knollenberg is a major Democratic target this cycle, and Drake’s district is one the DCCC targeted in 2006 but has no challenger for yet. Hulshof’s district gave President Bush 59 percent of the vote in 2004 and has not been considered a major battleground in recent cycles.

The National Republican Congressional Committee dismissed Van Hollen’s claims as baseless and misleading, contending that the contents of his letter proves the Democrats are more interested in politicizing SCHIP than in passing a bill that provides health care to needy children.

NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said Democrats tried the same argument in the special election campaign in Massachusetts’ 5th district last month, but that it failed to resonate. Although now-Rep. Niki Tsongas (D) won that race, her 6-point victory was much closer than the overwhelmingly Democratic nature of the district suggested it should have been.

“If Democrats want to continue to politicize the issue of children’s health care, then we welcome them to it,” Spain said. “So far the Democrat-led Congress has only reaffirmed the perception that they cannot get a single thing done and their approval rating shows it. That is the polling number I would be worried about most if I were them.”

Nearly a third of the House Republican Conference has voted for the Democratic-supported extension of SCHIP. But a majority has helped sustain Bush’s veto of the bill. SCHIP was first passed in the 1990s when Republicans controlled Congress.

Democrats have criticized Republicans for refusing to support the current bill, as it would increase spending over current levels and insure more children. Republicans argue the bill would allow illegal immigrants access to government-subsidized health insurance and expand eligibility of the program to include children of parents who can afford private coverage.

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