Sensing a political advantage, Democrats rushed Wednesday to move a health care bill for children back to the House floor after making minor changes to win over more Republicans.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would vote Thursday on the new bill, which, like the original that President Bush vetoed three weeks ago, would cover 10 million children and increase spending by $35 billion, for a total of $60 billion, in the next five years.
“The bill addresses all of the concerns that were expressed by our colleagues and by the president,” Pelosi said. “We hope the Republicans will take yes for an answer.”
The new bill would tighten eligibility for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, generally barring the use of federal money to cover illegal immigrants, childless adults and children of families with incomes exceeding three times the poverty level: $61,950 for a family of four.
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said the changes would improve the bill and would pick up some Republican votes.
Upton was among 44 Republicans who voted last week to override the president’s veto of the earlier bill. Supporters fell 13 votes short of the number needed to override in the House. The bill had passed in the Senate with more than the two-thirds majority needed to override.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, said that the income limits in the new bill “completely obliterate” Bush’s argument that Congress wanted to provide coverage to families making $83,000 a year, which is about four times the poverty level for a family of four.
The new bill would still cost more than Bush wants. And it would be financed with an increase in tobacco taxes, another feature to which he objects.
Bush administration officials were on Capitol Hill on Wednesday and said they wanted a compromise. Michael O. Leavitt, the secretary of health and human services, met with House Republican leaders on Tuesday and with Senate Republican leaders on Wednesday, but said he had “yet to engage in direct conversations with the Democrats.”
“I have zero impact on what the Democrats do,” Leavitt said.
Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said administration officials did not appear to be serious about striking a deal. “I don’t think they want a bill,” Emanuel said.