TriCaucus Fears SCHIP Dealing

Posted November 13, 2007 at 6:53pm

Key factions within the Democratic Caucus have threatened to abandon an as-yet-unfinished new version of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program bill, complaining that party leaders are ready to give too much ground in negotiations aimed at wooing Republican support.

Members of the TriCaucus — a coalition of the Hispanic, black and Asian Pacific lawmakers — said they are concerned the negotiations could undercut the $35 billion bill that is intended to expand the program to 10 million children.

“What we’re only going to vote for at this point is a continuation of the current SCHIP bill,” said Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“Because the negotiations seem to be giving away what we want to see, they won’t pass that kind of bill with us,” she added.

In a letter to Democratic leaders Nov. 6, members of the TriCaucus outlined those concerns, specifically citing the intensification of requirements that mandate citizenship documentation as well as potential cuts to outreach programs intended to promote the health insurance program in minority communities.

“We have already compromised several times on SCHIP legislation,” the letter states. “We originally asked for an additional $50 billion in funding. … We are deeply concerned by the continued compromises that we may be asked to make on behalf of our communities; such compromises cause us to question our support for the overall package.”

One Democratic lawmaker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, criticized the negotiations last week: “How are we supposed to get these 10 million kids enrolled if we’re cutting our feet off?”

Similarly, Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), who chairs the Asian Pacific American Caucus, said: “Our concern is that these items [in negotiations] are not items that affect directly our communities and our children.”

“We want to be informed. We want to be a part of that discussion before anything is put on the table,” he added.

Although Democratic leadership aides said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and their staffs have held positive meetings with the TriCaucus, some Members including Honda and Kilpatrick assert they have been excluded from negotiations on the legislation.

“Democrats and some Republicans are working hard to develop legislation that will win a veto-proof majority in the House and Senate and are taking all Members’ concerns into account,” said a Democratic leadership aide.

Another leadership source said Democratic leaders are cognizant of the TriCaucus concerns.

“We have made it clear we are committed to ensuring that any agreement would improve upon current law and ensure that those who legally have a right to coverage are not impeded,” the source said. “The bottom line is that we should prohibit those who are not in the country legally from receiving services but in doing so we shouldn’t block U.S. citizens from getting health care.”

The House is now attempting its third version of the SCHIP legislation, after failing to secure the additional handful of Republican votes needed to override a presidential veto of the bill in mid-October.

Although both chambers passed a similar version of the measure in late October, Democratic leaders in both chambers have refrained from sending the bill to the White House because that legislation was also unsuccessful in garnering enough GOP support in the House to overcome a presidential veto.

Hoyer said Tuesday afternoon that Democratic and Republican aides met through the long weekend to continue negotiations on the legislation, and Members continued those efforts after returning from the Veterans Day recess.

He added that if an agreement has not been reached by Wednesday night, the previously approved bill will be sent to the White House.

“But that does not mean we stop talking,” Hoyer said.