WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A push by congressional Democrats to make good on Barack Obama’s pledge to provide millions more American children with health care coverage has Republicans accusing them of breaking the president-elect’s promise of bipartisanship.
Senate Finance Committee Republicans said legislation approved by the committee on Thursday that would expand a popular children’s health insurance program violated a spirit of bipartisanship that went into earlier versions of the legislation.
“That spirit of bipartisan partnership for low-income children appears to be disappearing before our very eyes. It’s being replaced with partisan exploitation” said Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the usually collegial Finance Committee.
He called it “damn disgusting.”
Grassley blamed Democratic leaders rather than committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, for producing a bill that he said omits a number of items sought by Republicans including provisions aimed at preventing the government run program from “crowding out” private insurance plans.
Grassley said many Republicans will not be able to support the current children’s health bill and that the way the Democratic majority handled the current bill “does not bode well” for how they will act on other major issues such as the broad health care reform promised by Obama.
During his presidential election campaign, Obama promised to cast aside the intense partisan politics that created gridlock in Washington and to reach out to Republicans on pressing matters facing the United States.
Baucus assured Grassley that when it comes to overhauling the $2.3 trillion U.S. health care industry, “we will work together.”
Republicans also opposed an amendment that would drop a five-year ban on providing the children’s health benefit to legal immigrants, which Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas called a “poison pill” that injects immigration, a divisive issue for Republicans, into the children’s health debate.
“We’ve been thrown underneath the bus,” Roberts said.
The immigration provision brings the Senate bill more in line with a bill approved on Wednesday by the U.S. House of Representatives on a vote of 289-139. Forty Republicans joined majority Democrats in passing the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid spokesman Jim Manley called the Republican charge that Democrats were playing politics with the children’s health bill “ridiculous.” He pointed to the number of Republicans voting for the House bill and said there was no reason the Senate version could not enjoy Republican support.
The health legislation would provide insurance coverage for an additional 4.1 million children, reducing the number of uninsured youngsters in the country by nearly half, FamiliesUSA, a nonprofit healthcare consumer group, said in a report on Thursday.
Currently nearly 7 million children are enrolled in the program. The increased spending for the expanded program will be financed by a 61-cents-a-pack increase in the federal cigarette tax. Taxes on other tobacco products would be increased as well.
The Senate is expected to act quickly on the legislation, which could become one of the first bills Obama signs into law after taking office on Tuesday.
Editing by Cynthia Osterman