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Elections Have Consequences, S-chip Edition

Via Congressional Quarterly, it seems that Senate Republicans are angry over the bill to extend the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) now coming to the floor for a vote.  

“Our Democratic colleagues have gone back on many of the prior agreements that were reached in creating that bill last year, making this issue more contentious than it ought to be and setting a troubling precedent for future discussions on health care reform,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell , R-Ky., said Tuesday.

Democrats’ SCHIP bill would expand the program by $32.8 billion over four and a half years, providing coverage for some 4 million previously uninsured children, they say.

But the new bill also includes several changes to agreements that Democrats and Republicans hammered out in 2007. Senate Republicans Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, who split with most in their party to support legislation that was twice vetoed by President George W. Bush , protested the changes.

“I’m bitterly disappointed,” said Hatch, adding he wished Democrats had brought back the old legislation. “It represented a compromise, and laid the foundation for bipartisanship and trust,” he said. “The bill being considered this week is not that bill.”

Democrats said the changes they made were needed, and reasonable. They include eliminating a five-year waiting period for new, legal immigrant children and mothers to enroll in the program, slightly loosening identity requirements, and in some cases loosening family income limits on eligibility for SCHIP coverage.

Hatch, of course, is right: Democrats did modify the S-CHIP bill. And while these modifications are not huge, the new package looks more like what they originally wanted in the last Congress, before compromising in an effort to produce legislation sufficiently popular to withstand former President Bush's veto.

But political circumstances have changed since that time. Barack Obama is the president, while the Senate Democrats have picked up eight seats. A big reason for those gains is the health care debate. Democrats campaigned on a promise to make health insurance more accessible, even if that means more govenrment intervention. Republicans disagreed. And the Democrats prevailed.

Meanwhile, the economy is even worse shape than it was a year ago. The need for programs like S-CHIP has grown.

I understand why Republicans wish the new S-CHIP bill looked exactly like it did a year ago. I'm just not sure why they expect anybody to honor that wish.

--Jonathan Cohn