Senate Democrats

Reid: Bipartisan CHIP Bill Is Good For American Kids, Families

Washington, DCSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate in favor of the CHIP reauthorization bill:

“Just like any job in America, Senators have good days and bad days.  We all know what it’s like to leave work frustrated that we didn’t make the progress we hoped – that we didn’t express our views in quite the right way, or that we just didn’t have enough time to get everything done.  But we also know, here in the United States Senate, how the opposite feels: days when we put our political differences aside, rise above the partisanship, and do something lasting and meaningful for our country.

“Earlier this year, when the Senate passed its version of the Children’s Health Insurance Program was a day like that.  A day of happiness.  And today can be another day like that.

“As a result of the hard work of Chairman Baucus and Senators Rockefeller, Grassley and Hatch, we have before us legislation that I am confident will enjoy overwhelming bipartisan support.  Hopefully the strong bipartisan message this body sends today will be loud enough and strong enough that the President will reconsider his stubborn opposition to this legislation.

“For all the talk we hear about what government does wrong, CHIP is a shining example of what government does right.  Before CHIP became law 10 years ago, millions of children were uninsured.  These children were part of a coverage gap.  Their parents’ incomes weren’t high enough to afford private insurance, nor low enough to qualify for Medicaid.

“Now, a decade later, the CHIP program has reduced the number of uninsured children in working families by 35 percent.  Today, 6.6 million children have insurance thanks to this exemplary program.  Many of these children are now getting regular checkups.  They are benefiting from preventive medicine.  And their primary care comes from a family doctor, not from an expensive and inefficient emergency room.

“Examples of this success can be found in every single state – in urban areas, rural areas, on the east coast, the west coast, and everywhere in between.

“When we voted on this bill originally, I gave just one example – the story of a Reno, Nevada, woman, Terry Rasner.  Since 1998, Terry has helped children in Nevada enroll in Nevada Check Up, which is the Nevada Children’s Health Insurance Program.  Her work has never been more important.  The latest numbers just released show 115,000 uninsured children in Nevada – and this bill would provide coverage to most of them.

“Terry emailed me to explain how the program is operating in Nevada.  She wrote: ‘There are many stories of children as old as 11 and 12 who were finally able to visit a dentist for the first time in their lives.  Stories of families who finally felt whole because they could access affordable medical and dental care for their children.  School nurses who were acutely involved in supporting and promoting this program from the outset because they were on the frontlines of failed programs – or no programs at all – to address the medical and dental needs of children of low-income working families.   One child in particular was so bad off, he was unable to eat and chew food due to the dramatic decay…in his mouth.  Imagine, children for the first time in their lives actually getting to see a doctor or dentist that their parents were able to afford.’

“Stories like this – examples of the Children’s Health Program saving lives — are being told across America, and the statistics bear that out.  Study after study shows:

  • Our youth enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program are much more likely to have regular doctor and dental care;
  • They report lower rates of unmet need for care;
  • The quality of care they receive is far better than it was before;
  • School performance improves;
  • The plan is helping to close the disparity in care for minority children;
  • And the Children’s Health Insurance Program has become a major source of care for rural children.

“So there is no doubt – no question at all – that the Children’s Health Insurance Program is good for kids, good for families and good for America.  And today we have the opportunity to take the next step toward making a great American success story even better.

“The bill before us maintains coverage for the 6.6 million children currently enrolled and adds an additional 4 million low-income, uninsured children.  It also improves the program by curbing coverage of adults in the program and targeting the lowest-income eligible families as new enrollees.  And it does all of this in a fiscally responsible manner.  This legislation is fully paid for.  It will not add one penny to our nation’s deficits or debt.

“It is not surprising therefore that this bill is supported by:

  • Forty-five Republicans and almost every Democrat in the House of Representatives;
  • Chairman Grassley, Senator Hatch, more than a dozen other Republican Senators who voted for this bill the first time around, and every single Democrat in the Senate;
  • our Governors;
  • our health care providers;
  • Children’s advocates;
  • and the vast majority of Americans – are cheerleading for this most worthy legislation.

“The Senate will shortly do its part and pass this Children’s Health Insurance legislation.  Despite all of this – all of the good this bill will do and all of the support this bill enjoys – President Bush continues to insist he will try to stop this bill from becoming law.

“This is the same President Bush who during the 2004 campaign touted his plan to expand the CHIP program.  Quoting from a White House press release, ‘The President will launch an aggressive, billion-dollar effort to enroll children who are eligible but not signed up for the government’s health insurance programs.  The goal will be to cover millions more SCHIP and Medicaid-eligible children within the next two years.’

“Now President Bush offers us a list of reasons for opposing legislation that would do what he said he strongly supported.  One of the reasons he gives is that we can’t afford it.  First, let me repeat what I said before – this bill is paid for and will not increase the deficit one penny.  Second, let’s look at the things the President thinks we can afford.  The President has requested that we spend as much in about one month of the war in Iraq as it costs in our bill to cover 10 million children for a year. 

“So clearly it isn’t about not having the money.  It isn’t about any of the reasons he’s giving.  Despite his list of reasons, it has become clear in recent days that there is really only one reason for his reversal – his flip-flop – on the Children’s Health Insurance Program: He has crassly calculated that holding children hostage is the only way to raise from the dead his partisan, unpopular and ineffective health agenda. 

“Democrats realize this.  Republicans, including the Ranking Member of the Finance Committee, realize this.  This American people realize this.  President Bush stands all alone. 

“Can one imagine President Bush telling a child, ‘You can’t have health coverage.  You have to stop seeing your doctor.  If you get sick, your parents or a brother or sister or friend will have to take you to the emergency room and hope you get the care you need and deserve.’

“Despite his promises, I hope that he will come to his good side and put the well-being of millions of poor children ahead of his own flawed political agenda.  I hope he realizes that this program is government at its best: lending a helping hand, providing a safety net to children who need our help to reach their full potential.

“If we pass CHIP today with a good bipartisan vote, this can be one of the good days – when we do something lasting and meaningful for the American people who sent us here to help fulfill their hopes and dreams.”