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The Political SCHIP Hot Potato

The biggest showdown over any children’s issue this year in Congress will undoubtedly be over health care, and specifically, the state and federally funded program for low-income children called SCHIP. Any teacher or school official can tell you that children's health--from the treatment of acute illness to the management of chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes--can have a direct effect on their ability to learn.

Last week, the House and Senate approved expanding SCHIP to cover an additional 4 million low-income kids, at a pricetag of $35 billion over 5 years (courtesy of a hike in the cigarette tax.) President Bush has vowed to veto this version of the bill, arguing it's too broad and too costly. Even though both bills passed Congress with bipartisan support and what appears to be a veto-proof majority in the Senate, it's unclear if supporters will be able to round up enough votes in the House for an override.

Today, the Democratic governors of seven states (Arizona, Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Washington), plus lone Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California joined in a multi-state lawsuit to fight new federal rules (separate from the Congressional legislation) that may limit the number of children eligible for health coverage.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York, in a press conference today, characterized the opposition to children's health care expansion as an "out-of-touch" response from Republicans.

Also today, the Democratic Governors Association urged people to sign an online petition urging Bush to reconsider his veto threat.

While few people disagree about the merits of health care for poor children, the question is who should qualify (in other words, how poor should children be) and who pays. Whatever the reason, any vote or argument against health care for poor children will be potential damaging fodder for a campaign ad.

Regardless of how this plays out, children's health care will be a hot-button election issue.

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