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S-CHIP Showdown Could Affect 2008 Races

The House is set to vote tonight on a key provision of the Democratic Party's domestic agenda -- expanding the federal-state Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP). President Bush has threatened to veto the measure.

But Democrats want Republicans to be thinking of Bailey, a little girl from Texas who, as a 3-year-old in 2004, played a starring role in Rep. Chet Edwards's surprising re-election victory.

VIDEO | A Texan's Tale: The Political Ramifications of the CHIP Debate

While Edwards used the issue defensively to retain his seat, Democrats think that the S-CHIP can be an offensive weapon against House Republicans, particularly those in suburban districts.

Edwards was one of five Texas Democrats whose district lines were redrawn by the Texas legislature in 2003. The redistricting effort was led by then U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who hoped the new districts would be more favorable to Republican candidates.

Four of the Democrats affected by the redistricting went down in flames Election Day 2004, but Edwards mounted a fierce campaign and successfully fended off GOP state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth.

Wohlgemuth's key success in the legislature was a re-organization of the state health agencies, including a reduction in enrollment for S-CHIP. Enter young Bailey and her mother, Jamie Jones, who became the stars of one of the toughest ads of the 2004 cycle. After her husband died, Jamie Jones tells the camera, she got her daughter insurance through S-CHIP. Black-and-white pictures of mother hugging daughter roll across the screen -- interspersed with graphics indicating Wohlgemuth's bill cut 147,000 Texas kids from the insurance program. Then the kicker: Jones tells how Bailey was cut from S-CHIP without warning, leaving the child with no health care.

"I don't want welfare," Jones says in the ad. "I just want good insurance for my child. ... Look at my little girl; look into her eyes and tell her why she's not good enough to be taken care of."

Edwards won the 2004 race by less than 10,000 votes. He was re-elected with about 58 percent of the vote in 2006. Democratic strategists such as Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) believe the S-CHIP ad used in Edwards's race could serve as a near cookie-cutter image for what Democrats hope to do to Republicans in vulnerable districts next year.

Republicans opposed to the S-CHIP expansion measure have argued that the Democrats created a bill that would expand coverage well beyond poor, deserving children (like Bailey). They argue that the bill in reality masks unchecked growth of a government entitlement.

"This bill doesn't confine the program to low-income children which is what it's supposed to be about. I think that's the principle reason for him vetoing it -- the amount and that it's extending beyond low-income children which is what it's supposed to be all about," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters in a conference call yesterday.

And House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) issued a memo accusing Democrats of making it easier for illegal immigrants to get insurance through the expansion of S-CHIP.

If it comes to a veto override fight, Boehner will be the White House's man on the Hill. In early August, 68 senators voted for the program, more than enough to defeat Bush's veto pen. Earlier that week, just five Republicans joined 220 Democrats to support the bill, with many arguing the House version contained strict cuts in Medicare programs to finance it. That's no longer an issue since the final version is much more in line with the Senate bill, and late last week Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) told The Post's Jonathan Weisman he was hoping for an additional 30 votes from his side of the aisle.

But that would put Democrats in the neighborhood of only 255 votes, well short of the 290 needed to override a Bush veto if every member is present and voting.

If Bush's veto of S-CHIP stands, several dozen House Republicans will be left hoping that their Democratic challengers don't have sympathetic cases like Bailey's to use next fall in the form of an attack ads.

By Paul Kane  |  September 25, 2007; 1:47 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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