WASHINGTON -- Republican efforts to scale back expansion of a popular children's health insurance program failed in the Senate on Wednesday, as a bitter partisan battle unfolded in the House over a more generous version that includes broad Medicare changes.
The Senate rejected, 53-42, an amendment by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., that would have cut federal payments for middle-income children and childless adults under the State Children's Health Insurance Program -- originally designed to cover only poor children -- and limit future coverage for those populations.
Earlier, the Senate defeated, 58-26, an amendment by Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., that would have to shifted the bill's $35 billion SCHIP increase, financed through a tobacco tax increase, into treating diseases like cancer and heart disease. It would have left the program, slated to expire Sept. 30, funded at its current $25 billion level for the next five years.
The action came as House Republicans slowed the chamber to a crawl through parliamentary tactics in protest of $75 billion SCHIP bill they derided as the first step in moving toward government-run universal health care.
Both versions are under veto threats from President Bush, who calls them overly expensive and an inappropriate shift away from private health insurance.
"The real plan here is to set the stage for a movement of the next gigantic step in the direction of what should be called Hillary-care -- national socialized medicine," said Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., referring to the failed Clinton administration health care effort, directed by then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Democrats are using the legislation as an opportunity to roll back years of Republican-driven changes to Medicare, cutting payments to Medicare HMO's and shifting the money to doctors and benefits for low-income seniors.