Congress is poised to pass a large increase to the Children's Health Insurance Program this week, though the White House and many Republicans resist the expansion, which they see as part of Democrats' move to universal, government health care.
The Senate plans a $35 billion increase to the program over five years on top of the base $25 billion to run the program. The House wants more and is looking at passing a $50 billion boost.
Huntsman spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley said Monday that the most important thing is that Congress reauthorize the program started 10 years ago, but that an expansion would be a welcome "bonus."
The federal government pays most of the CHIP assistance for low-income families, though in Utah, the state forks out $1 for every $4 from the federal contribution.
"We're in favor of expansions, definitely, but not at the expense of being vetoed because then it's counterproductive," Roskelley said. Still, "The Senate's version is probably the most likely to manage some sort of political cohesion. Realism requires that there be compromise. The Senate version may very well be that compromise."
Meanwhile, Utah's two senators voted Monday to move the Senate version forward; 80 senators agreed to have a final vote on the measure, 20 more than required. No senators opposed it, and the vote is more than enough to override a veto should President Bush send back the legislation.
Hatch is a leading co-sponsor of the CHIP legislation and is lobbying the White House to accept the Senate's compromised expansion. He says he wished the cost wasn't as high, but he's persuaded by the spending to help millions of American children lead healthier lives.
"It's the right thing to do," Hatch said in a floor speech. "We should not let the opportunity pass us by to build on that solid foundation and do even more good for the children, our future."
Bennett says he supports reauthorizing CHIP, but that it should return to its original intent of providing children, not others, with health insurance.
"The current proposal uses too many taxpayer dollars to cover individuals that were never intended to receive coverage, essentially moving one step closer to government-run health care," Bennett said in a statement. He says the focus needs to return to helping children and ensuring the rules enforce that.
Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, Utah's former governor and a former insurance executive, says Bush may veto the legislation if it adds more than the $5 billion he wants for CHIP.
The CHIP program, which covers about 27,000 Utah children, will expire Sept. 30 unless Congress reauthorizes it.
Even with CHIP, about 45,000 Utah children are still without any health insurance coverage, according to state figures.
Leavitt told reporters last week that it was not a question of helping needy children - a goal he says everyone has - but the quarrel brings up a debate on who should run health care: the government or the private sector.
Rep. Jim Matheson supports the House version of the CHIP reauthorization, saying that the increase in tobacco taxes to pay for the program's growth is a "win-win."
"This bill extends a proven program that provides access to the basic health care we want all our children to have," Matheson said last week. "Nothing is more important in Utah than protecting our kids."