DeGette: Extend SCHIP now, leave health care reform to Obama

Ahhh, it’s that time of year again when lawmakers in the post-election political majority start feeling their oats and begin pushing their pet projects.

And Montana Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, has a biggie on his mind — health care reform. Except Denver’s Rep. Diana DeGette, who serves on the competing Energy and Commerce Committee, isn’t wild about the plan.

The Kaiser Daily Health Report excerpts Baucus’ reform plan from a subscription-only CQ Today story:

He said, “I’m guessing the first of the year, near the first of the year, we’ll have a bill” (Armstrong, CQ Today, 12/10). Baucus added, “I want to get started, and there are going to be certain upfront costs related to health care reform, no question about that” (Cohn, CongressDaily, 12/10).

Baucus also indicated he will pursue a short-term reauthorization of SCHIP. Baucus said the short-term reauthorization would be “of sufficient duration” to include a longer-term reauthorization into a larger health care overhaul package. According to CQ Today, “Such a short-term reauthorization would signal that Baucus is ready for a lengthy legislative struggle on a broader health overhaul bill.”

The State Children’s Health Insurance Program, better known as SCHIP, riled up Congress last year when President Bush vetoed the popular program that provides health insurance to children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but can’t afford private insurance. A watered-down stop gap bill, later signed by the president, funds SCHIP only through March 2009.

According to the Kaiser post, DeGette thinks Congress’ efforts would be better spent passing a new SCHIP appropriation while the incoming Obama Administration tackles health care reform later.

“I think if Max (Baucus) thinks we’re going to have universal coverage within the first couple months of (the next) Congress, he’s being quite optimistic,” a snarky DeGette reportedly told CQ Today.

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Wendy Norris

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