Senate sets up second SCHIP veto

A bipartisan group of senators failed to reach a deal on controversial legislation expanding a children’s health insurance program, setting the stage for President Bush to veto the measure for a second time this fall.
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House Republicans and senators from both parties believed a deal was at hand on Thursday to amend a House-passed version of a bill that expands the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by $35 billion over five years.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' Pelosi asks Democrats for 'leverage' on impeachment Democrats press FBI, DHS on response to white supremacist violence MORE (R-Ky.) rebuffed Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidNo, it is not racist to question birthright citizenship McConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster Harry Reid: 'Decriminalizing border crossings is not something that should be at the top of the list' MORE’s (D-Nev.) request to give the negotiators more time, forcing a vote on the House-approved bill. The measure was approved 64-30.

Senators pushing for a compromise vowed to continue their work, and Reid said he would ask House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to not attempt to override Bush’s promised veto. On the Senate floor, he said House Republicans had advised him a veto override attempt would not be the best course of action on a sensitive issue both parties have tried to use for political gain over the past few weeks.

Some House Democrats attacked the Senate GOP leaders for forcing the vote.

“It’s ironic that the House wanted more time and the Senate Republicans wanted less,” Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said with a hint of sarcasm. “Three different positions in three weeks leads me to guess that there was one goal here: try to kill the bill.”

While some Senate Republicans, most notably Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe road not taken: Another FBI failure involving the Clintons surfaces White House denies exploring payroll tax cut to offset worsening economy Schumer joins Pelosi in opposition to post-Brexit trade deal that risks Northern Ireland accord MORE (Iowa) and Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom Trump awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist, former Reagan adviser Arthur Laffer Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators MORE (Utah), supported the Democratic-backed measure, Senate Republican leaders and President Bush worked to defeat it.

House Democrats had made small changes to the bill first vetoed by Bush in an effort to win more votes, but to little avail. Those changes prevented states from covering adults, capped income levels at which families could qualify for the program and tightened requirements so that undocumented workers would not be able to get health insurance.

Bush complained the bill had the same flaws as it had when he vetoed it the first time. He gave the measure an additional blow by asserting that he would veto any SCHIP bill, regardless of its content, if it included a tobacco tax meant to pay for the expanded coverage of 10 million children.

That move put Bush at odds with House Republicans, since virtually every member of the conference has supported an SCHIP bill that included a tobacco tax. It also opened Republicans up to Democratic attacks on the issue.

“Republicans claim they want to negotiate in good faith.  Now, we learn that President Bush and congressional Republicans are more worried about protecting the tobacco lobby than providing health insurance to American kids,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said.

A group of more than 40 centrist Republicans has voted for the legislation twice, despite the president’s opposition.

A second group of 38 Republicans indicated they would be willing to support the measure if some changes were made. That core group of House Republicans included Rep. Judy Biggert (Ill.), Greg Walden (Ore.), Jeff FortenberryJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FortenberryHouse Democrats urge Trump to end deportations of Iraqis after diabetic man's death House Appropriations passes defense bill that would limit funds for border wall, pull US support from Yemen war Thirty-four GOP members buck Trump on disaster bill MORE (Neb.), Randy Kuhl (N.Y.), Robert AderholtRobert Brown AderholtHouse advances B agriculture bill Dems advance bill defying Trump State Department cuts Maryland raises legal tobacco purchasing age to 21 MORE (Ala.) and Vernon Ehlers (Mich.).

House Republicans had been discussing a potential deal with Hatch, Grassley and Sens. Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerBottom Line World Health Day: It's time to fight preventable disease Lobbying World MORE (D-W.Va.) and Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusOvernight Defense: McCain honored in Capitol ceremony | Mattis extends border deployment | Trump to embark on four-country trip after midterms Congress gives McCain the highest honor Judge boots Green Party from Montana ballot in boost to Tester MORE (D-Mont.) Thursday afternoon in a room in the basement of the Capitol, according to House Republican aides.

But their discussions, which had been ongoing for more than a week, ended abruptly when McConnell forced Reid to schedule a vote.

Reid walked over to the House side of the Capitol and encouraged the lawmakers to keep meeting, promising that if they reached an agreement he would bring the third version of the bill up for a vote, lawmakers in the room said.

“We were well over 50 percent of the way there,” Biggert said. “I thought we could finish [Thursday].”

“I believe that a compromise is within reach. [Given] a little more time, Congress could pass a SCHIP bill that could achieve the support of more than two-thirds of both houses of Congress,” Baucus said on the Senate floor on Thursday. “Unfortunately, today some objected to giving us that time.  I regret that.”

Biggert said the group was “not negotiating, but having discussions,” and added that she kept Minority Leader John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerScaramucci compares Trump to Jonestown cult leader: 'It's like a hostage crisis inside the White House' Israel should resist Trump's efforts to politicize support Lobbyists race to cash in on cannabis boom MORE (R-Ohio) and GOP Whip Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity GOP group targets McConnell over election security bills in new ad MORE (Mo.) abreast of the discussions. It is unclear how many of her colleagues Biggert could have delivered if a deal was struck. 

Despite efforts to reach a deal, political attacks have not let up.

Several liberal pressure groups, including Americans United for Change and AFSCME, are running up to $2.5 million in advertisements against Reps. Kuhl, Steve Chabot (Ohio), Joe Knollenberg (Mich.), Michele BachmannMichele Marie BachmannKlobuchar urges CNN town hall audience: 'That's when you guys are supposed to cheer, OK?' Michele Bachmann praises Trump: Americans will 'never see a more godly, biblical president' Will Biden lead a 'return to normalcy' in 2020? MORE (Minn.), Ric Keller (Fla.) and Sam GravesSamuel (Sam) Bruce GravesRepublicans spend more than million at Trump properties Acting FAA chief defends agency's Boeing 737 Max safety certification Thirty-four GOP members buck Trump on disaster bill MORE (Mo.).

Manu Raju and Jeffrey Young contributed to this article.