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Chip Reauthorization

Sen. Richard J. Durbin

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Mr. President, 10 years ago the Senate created the Children's Health Insurance Program to help States provide health coverage for low-income kids across America. It is known as CHIP. It provides cost-effective health coverage to millions of kids. It is truly the biggest success story in health care in America in the past decade. We have reduced the number of uninsured children in our Nation by one-third. With the help of the CHIP program, my State of Illinois launched a statewide initiative to cover all kids, setting an important precedent for other States to follow. Over 300,000 kids in Illinois have insurance, but there are still thousands more we need to reach.

The 15 million uninsured children in America in 1997 are now 9 million nationwide. That is still far too many. Unfortunately, the Bush administration does not view the Senate bill as the carefully crafted compromise it is but sees it as a threat--in their words, ``a step down the path of government-run health care for every American.'' Let me assure them, this bill falls far short of anything resembling universal coverage. It leaves millions of kids still without health insurance and millions of working parents and working adults in a similar uninsured status. But it is progress.

The President's proposal to add just $5 billion over the next 5 years isn't enough. At that level, hundreds of thousands of people will likely lose coverage. At that level, we start moving backward, pushing kids and families out of coverage and increasing the number of uninsured. This is no surprise. This President has seen a dramatic increase of uninsured children for the first time since 1998, since he took office. The number of uninsured children rose to 8.7 million in 2006, up from 8 million in 2005--a 9-percent increase in 1 year.

It is time to reauthorize the children's health program before it expires in a few days. What this bill does is strengthen a successful bipartisan program.

It allows States to cover more than 9 million children who do not have health insurance. The compromise bill will allow 6.6 million children to maintain coverage and allow States to reach almost 4 million more. The House and Senate have worked out a delicate bipartisan compromise. We know it is time to put party labels aside and do something about health care, particularly for our children.

How do we pay for it? It is an honest question, and a good one. The investment in the Children's Health Insurance Program is paid for by increasing the Federal tax on cigarettes, with proportional increases for other tobacco products.

I know there are some people who think this is unfair to smokers. But I have to tell them, their habit, their addiction to nicotine and tobacco comes at great expense not only to them personally but to this Nation. We know higher tobacco prices will make it less likely kids will use tobacco products. So it is a win-win situation. You see, if these tobacco companies do not hook our kids at an early age, while they are still kids and have not thought it through, they might never get them addicted.

So you see, the vast majority of smokers today started smoking before the age of 16. The addiction starts, and it doesn't end until one out of three of them die from this tobacco addiction.

What stops a kid from smoking? Well, sometimes good parental advice or more--and a high price. When tobacco costs a lot of money, kids don't buy it. It is a simple fact. It is economics. If there is one thing you want to do to stop kids from becoming addicted to tobacco, raise the price of the product. Each time you raise it a nickel or a dime or a quarter or 50 cents, you end up with fewer kids smoking. That is what is going to happen. So we will not only raise money from the tobacco tax to pay for health insurance for kids, we will have fewer kids addicted to tobacco.

In a poll conducted for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, two-thirds of those interviewed--67 percent--favor this tax increase across America; 28 percent oppose it. Moreover, nearly half--49 percent--strongly favor it. Only 20 percent strongly oppose it.

It is the right thing to do for our kids' health and for the public's health. We have had good, bipartisan cooperation on this measure. It has been our highest priority since the Democrats took control of Congress at the beginning of this year. We have tried to work together, and we have worked together successfully.

I want to especially salute, on our side of the aisle, Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Finance Committee, who has been working on this very closely with Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa. Senator Grassley, Senator Hatch, and others have really shown extraordinary political courage in coming together to support this measure.

Now we have to convince the President. The President said in his statement last week:

Members of Congress are putting health coverage for poor children at risk so they can score political points in Washington.

Well, I am sorry to say I disagree with the President on this. We are working with the President's party, many Republicans in the Senate and in the House, to improve this important program.

Last night, on the House floor, there was a vote on this program, 265 to 159. Forty-five Republicans joined almost all of the Democratic House Members in support. It is a shame the President refuses to consider the needs of millions of families who would be benefited from additional children's health insurance coverage.

Let me close by saying a word about the cost of this program. This program is likely to cost us $6 billion a year. Mr. President, $6 billion is a substantial sum of money to add more children to health insurance coverage. Measure that $6 billion a year against this war--a war that costs us $12 billion a month, a war for which this President will come and ask $200 billion in the next 2 weeks.

But this measure that costs $6 billion a year is an amount of money that pales in comparison with what the President is going to ask us to continue to spend on the war in Iraq. His request will be near $200 billion. Mr. President, $200 billion for a war in Iraq, $200 billion for helping the people of Iraq, the President believes we can afford. But he argues we cannot afford $6 billion for more health insurance for America's children.

I believe a strong America begins at home. It begins with strong schools and strong families and strong communities and strong neighborhoods. And it begins with health care--health care to bring peace of mind to parents who otherwise worry that tomorrow that earache may turn into something worse, or a strep throat or a child struggling with asthma or diabetes.

These are kids who need basic health protection and do not have it today. They are not the poorest of the poor. Those kids already have help from our Government. These kids I am talking about are the children of working families, working families who, unfortunately, have no health insurance at their workplace. We are trying to expand the coverage of health insurance.

The President says it is unfair to private health insurance companies for us to expand this program. I could not disagree more. Private health insurance companies are doing quite well. They do not need any more help from us. The fact that these kids do not have health insurance suggests these private health insurance companies either cannot or will not provide them the coverage they need.

I urge my colleagues, when the measure comes over from the House of Representatives--which it should momentarily--that we should support it, and I hope with numbers that say to the President: Please, for the sake of this country, for the sake of our families, and for the sake of the kids--the millions of kids who will have health insurance coverage--please, do not veto this important children's health insurance bill.

I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

The clerk will call the roll.

The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

Sen. Carl Levin

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Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

Without objection, it is so ordered.