Miss. congressmen split on failed override of SCHIP veto

Published 4:27 pm Friday, October 19, 2007

Three of Mississippi’s four congressmen voted Thursday against overriding President Bush’s veto of a bill that would’ve expanded a government health care program for children.

The 273-156 House vote fell 13 votes short of the two-thirds majority required. That means the veto stands and the bill dies.

Republican Reps. Chip Pickering and Roger Wicker and Democratic Rep. Gene Taylor voted against the override. Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson voted for it.

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None of the four changed his position from the time the bill originally passed.

Taylor and Rep. Jim Marshall of Georgia were the only two House Democrats who voted with Bush, compared with six who originally voted against the bill.

In a phone interview from his Washington office, Taylor said he opposed the bill because it would’ve increased the federal cigarette tax from 39 cents to $1 a pack.

“It’s my estimation that a disproportionally high number of smokers are the financially least fortunate. This becomes a very regressive tax on them,” Taylor said. “I just hope we can find something fair to everyone involved, as a funding source.”

Thompson said the failure of the veto override “squandered yet another opportunity to improve the lives of millions of low income children across this country, including 83,000 in Mississippi.”

“Gov. (Haley) Barbour and others who worked to defeat this bill approved by Congress should be ashamed. Today’s vote is indicative of the extent to which Republicans will go to cater to interests like insurance companies,” Thompson said in a news release Thursday.

Barbour said the funding formula would leave Mississippi nearly $100 million short to cover all the children who would be eligible for the program. About 60,000 children in the state are currently enrolled.

“We do not get enough money from the federal government today to pay the federal share for even half of the eligible children. And the new bill that was passed through Congress that the president vetoed would not have done one thing to solve Mississippi’s problem,” Barbour said this week during a campaign appearance in Ridgeland. “We would still, we and some other states, would still have been shortchanged.”

Thousands of Mississippi children who are eligible for SCHIP have never been signed up by their parents, the governor said.

“Even though we don’t get enough federal money to cover the children we have on the program now, we sign up any child who is eligible,” Barbour said. “We sign them up, then we figure out how to get the money. And we’ve been successful so far.”

Democrat John Arthur Eaves Jr., who is challenging Barbour in the Nov. 6 general election, said the bill would’ve helped tens of thousands more children.

“Jesus said we should care for the least among us, our children, and SCHIP expansion would provide more money for Mississippi’s kids,” Eaves said in a news release.

Pickering said officials must now “end partisan politics and put our children in need first.”

“The bottom line is SCHIP must serve the eligible low-income children first, should not force children out of private health insurance, and should cover American children,” Pickering said in a news release Thursday. “We will not settle on a bill that compromises these issues and will continue to work on a bipartisan renewal of this program.”

Wicker said: “Now that the veto has been sustained and the political theater has played out, I hope both sides can sit down and reach agreement allowing us to reauthorize and expand SCHIP. I strongly support that and regret that it has been held up over issues unrelated to SCHIP’s original mandate to serve the health care needs of low-income children.”