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Cole's Floor Speech on H.R. 2, SCHIP

January 14, 2009

Madame Speaker, I rise today to speak to H.R. 2 and the State Children's Health Insurance Program in general.  Like many of my colleagues, I have been supportive of the underlying legislation.  However, the way in which the underlying legislation has been brought forward under a closed rule is unforgiveable.  This is simply just one more example of the majority taking away the right of the minority to offer any type of substantive amendment or change to the legislation.

Let's review what has occurred this year with the Rules process.  First, the majority has seen fit to remove the minority's ability to offer a motion to recommit a bill promptly, taking away a right that even Speaker Joe Cannon sought to guarantee to the minority.   Additionally, as the first order of business, the majority decided to include two closed rules for H.R. 11 – Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and H.R. 12 – Paycheck Fairness Act.  Now, as their third order of business, the House Rules Committee and the Democratic Majority has decided to once again close off debate and reject the minority's request to be able to offer even one amendment.

Madame Speaker, the fact is that this legislation was debated in the last Congress and the majority knows the minority has substantive and strong concerns regarding the way in which the underlying legislation will be implemented.  This is a process that should be bipartisan.  It is a program that has received bipartisan support in the past.  It is a program that should be able to be genuinely debated.  Why, in this time of dramatic political change, where the American people have demanded bipartisanship, is the majority closing off any and all debate?

Madame Speaker, the underlying legislation represents an expansion of the S-CHIP program that undermines its original purpose.  By expanding the level of coverage to 300% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), this legislation goes far beyond the objective of covering low income families and now will cover some families who can even be subject to the Alternative minimum tax.  This will eventually cause middle class families to be competing with the poor for coverage for their children, functionally turning it into another middle class entitlement program.

Furthermore, while this bill expands coverage for children, it does much more.  It now begins to cover childless adults, it contains provisions to expand coverage to low-income parents, and creates an Express Lane Enrollment Option for states.  The Express Lane Enrollment Option is, perhaps, one of the most egregious provisions in the bill.  It will functionally allow states to insure children who come from families making 330 percent of the federal poverty level.

Also, let's take a look at how the majority derives the money to pay for this radical expansion of health insurance.  First, they increase the tobacco tax.  However, the majority ignores the fact that increasing this tax almost always lowers the level of smoking, thus causing a delta between estimated and actual revenues to be derived from this tax increase  Additionally, the majority has seen fit to cut SCHIP funding in the final budget year, using this as a workaround so that it complies with the PAYGO budget requirements.

Madame Speaker, while the original S-CHIP has been supported on a bipartisan basis, this legislation is neither bipartisan, nor fair.  It certainly cannot be seen to be in accord with our new President-Elect's position that we should work in a bipartisan manner.

Madame Speaker, with this in mind, I would encourage all members to vote against the rule, and the underlying legislation.  There is no way that this Rule can be considered anything but an exercise in raw, crass one-sided partisanship.  Vote against the return of an imperial Congress, and vote against this rule.

I yield back the balance of my time.