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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 3, 2007

Press Gaggle by Ed Gillespie, Counselor to the President
The Jay Group, Inc.
Lancaster, Pennsylvania

1:12 P.M. EDT

MR. GILLESPIE: I don't know if you had any questions I could help give you any context, or anything.

Q Has he invited Democrats for a meeting on S-CHIP?

MR. GILLESPIE: No, Secretary Leavitt and Al Hubbard and others have been talking to folks on the Hill for some time. It's clear from their own comments that the Democrat leadership in the Congress was intent on sending him a bill to be vetoed. And as he indicated here, it's good for Republicans and Democrats to come together and try to find a bill to keep the program going with a five-year authorization.

He strongly supports the program. As he noted, added 2 million children to its enrollment during his time in office, and proposed a 20 percent increase, as he said here. If that's not enough to meet its intent, the original intent of the program, to help those children and families that do not qualify for Medicaid, but are struggling in terms of their health care and need help, then let's talk about how much more needs to be done to do that. The President's concern is a policy concern, which he laid out, I think, very clearly today, in terms of the way this program has gone, where in some states, many states, more money is being spent -- more S-CHIP money is being spent on adults than children, and we have 500,000 children, half a million children who are qualified for the program today who are not yet enrolled. And we need to put, as the President put it, poor kids first.

Q Is he willing to go up from the $5 billion increase figure, increase that he proposed?

MR. GILLESPIE: Look at the President's remarks today. They've been focused on his policy concerns. And he wants the policy to focus on the intent of the S-CHIP program, not to take it up to families with incomes of $83,000 a year. As he said, that's not poor. Not to enroll -- to spend more money in the state on adults than children. So if it takes more to meet the intent of the program, he is happy to talk to -- hear from people as to what they think it would take to meet that intent.

But what he's not interested in, and doesn't think is good policy for the country, is using the S-CHIP program and using the -- under the auspices of helping poor children to actually have government take over more and more of our health care sector of the economy, private health care sector, by actually moving children who are covered under private insurance off of private insurance on to a government program.

As the President pointed out, for every two children who are not insured that are added to the enrollment, another child will be added who already has insurance and drops it, under what the Democrats proposed. And I don't think many people realize that that is the effect of the program that the President vetoed today.

So I thought it was good for the President to get those points out there.

Q Does he want to make the call, or are you going to wait for a call when it comes to compromise, as the President --

MR. GILLESPIE: The President vetoed the bill today. I assume that the Congress will move quickly to hold a vote on overriding or sustaining that veto. Then after the Democrats do that, we'll determine where they're willing to go. The President indicated, as I said today, if there is a question as to whether or not the 20 percent increase in funding that he has proposed to increase in S-CHIP funding would not cover the children that the program intends to cover, he is open to talking about how much more it would take to do that. That's a number, not a policy difference. And so we would be open to hearing from them.

But again, I guess at this point, we'll see -- I'm sure the Congress will want to move quickly on this so that they can get down to trying to, as the President said, for Democrats and Republicans to get together, and try to come to an agreement.

Q Secretary Leavitt and Hubbard are going to be your chief negotiators up there once the override --

MR. GILLESPIE: Secretary Leavitt and Al Hubbard have been talking to people about this, and are most steeped in the policy, and would be the logical people to be talking to members of Congress, as well as Republicans in Congress themselves who also support the program.

Q Ed, can I ask you about the $83,000 figure? It's my understanding that the current law, as it stands, in fact allows states to request waivers for up that amount; that this -- there's nothing in this new expansion that allows these people to get coverage up to $83,000, that it requires a waiver; that that's already in existence under the current law, and that the Bush administration rejected a waiver request from New York.

MR. GILLESPIE: And this law codified that request, and so that would take the program to families, as he said, of up to $83,000 per year. So I believe, Sheryl, that the bill that was passed by Congress and vetoed today does include a provision that would allow for New York to be covered and families earning up to $83,000 per year to --

Q Backers of the bill, like Chuck Grassley, say it does not. So the White House says it does?

MR. GILLESPIE: I've sent around the statutory language; I'll be happy to send it to you again.

MS. PERINO: We have to go.

Q How high is the President willing to go?

MR. GILLESPIE: Again, it's policy we're talking about.

END 1:17 P.M. EDT