Freshmen 42: The Fight Over SCHIP
A handful of freshman House Democrats are at the center of a fight over whether to expand a children's insurance program.
The five -- Michael Arcuri (N.Y.), Gabrielle Giffords (Ariz.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Steve Kagen (Wisc.) and Tim Mahoney (Fla.) -- have already been hit by insurance industry ads attacking their voting records on the issue. Now they'll get some defensive help from a labor coalition that supports the expansion of the plan, which is known as the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Democratic leaders consider SCHIP one of the cornerstone issues for their majority.
The coalition running the ads is led by Americans United for Change and backed by AFSCME and the Service Employees International Union. The spots aim to shore up the five lawmakers as the House and Senate get ready to hammer out differences between their two SCHIP bills. The labor coalition is positioning the ads as an attack on President Bush's Iraq policy: "For the amount of money Bush spends in Iraq in one week, we could cover 800,000 uninsured kids for an entire year."
[Listen to one of the ad here. This one is in support of Kagen. The other ads are virtually the same with a different name swapped in.]
The fight over SCHIP is just the latest example of how critical the Democratic freshmen are to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's legislative agenda. The Freshmen 42 voted for the original House SCHIP bill by a 37-4 margin, with one lawmaker not present.
Arcuri, Giffords, Gillibrand, Kagen and Mahoney all voted for the measure. The four freshman Democrats who voted 'nay' were: Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Brad Ellsworth (Ind.), Baron Hill (Ind.) and Heath Shuler (N.C.). The final roll call vote was 225-204, with five Republicans joining Democrats in favor of the bill.
The insurance industry, including America's Health Insurance Plans and the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care, have launched ad campaigns targeting vulnerable Democrats, the majority of which are freshman lawmakers. These groups argue that the House legislation is expanding health care for one group -- poor children -- at the expense of another, the elderly, with $157 billion in cuts to a Medicare program over 10 years.
These outside group campaigns have become a staple in congressional and presidential politics, but they tend to take on a decidedly issue based aura in the off-year of an election. In this case, the backdrop is Bush's threatened veto of the House-approved legislation. The Americans United coalition recognizes it also needs to go on the offensive against Republicans to try to round up enough votes to override Bush's veto -- which is a heavy lift, given that the first SCHIP vote came up about 65 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to beat his veto pen.
But the group will be organizing some field events, delivering petitions to vulnerable GOP incumbents and trying to continue the kids-versus-Iraq message (as opposed to the kids-versus-the-elderly theme of the insurance industry).
"The bottom line message: after spending billions on Iraq, President Bush is preparing to veto children's health coverage and leave millions of kids uninsured. We are calling on Republicans to get their priorities straight," a labor coalition memo says.
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