Peoria Journal Star

December 14, 2005

National All Kids proposed
Bills by Durbin, Emanuel appear doomed in GOP-controlled Congress

By Dori Meinert
of Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Rahm Emanuel introduced bills Tuesday that would offer financial incentives to encourage other states to follow Illinois' lead in providing health coverage for all children.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is wrapping up a two-day trip to the nation's capital to promote his health-care plan, joined his fellow Democrats at a news conference in the U.S. Capitol.

Illinois' plan is called "All Kids."

With no Republican co-sponsors in a Republican-controlled House and Senate, the Democrats' bills appear to have little chance of moving forward.

However, Blagojevich remained undeterred.

"I'm cautiously optimistic there will be members of the Republican party, and I hope a large number of them, who see the wisdom in a program like this and who see the rightness of providing health care to children," Blagojevich said.

Such a program "ought to be universally embraced irrespective of your party affiliation," said Blagojevich, who briefed fellow Democratic governors on his state's program at their meeting here Monday.

More than 9 million children nationwide don't have health insurance. A majority come from families where at least one parent is working. They don't qualify for Medicaid, but can't afford private health insurance, said Durbin.

Durbin noted polls show a majority of Americans say Congress is out to touch with their problems.

"The first real need of America, as I see it, is health care. ... It's what I hear from businesses, large and small, from labor unions, from families and individuals across the state," Durbin said.

"What I'm suggesting ... is let's take a hard look at all the good ideas that are out there on health care and do something next year. Congressman Emanuel and I want to make sure this idea is one of them," Durbin said.

Durbin is the Senate's No. 2 Democrat. Emanuel, who represents a Chicago district, heads the Democrats' efforts to defeat GOP House members.

Under their proposal, states that provide every uninsured child with access to health care would receive additional federal subsidies. States would receive up to 5 percent more than their current federal match for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) for children whose parents earn more than double the federal poverty level, the current threshold.

The program would cost $21 billion during the first five years. Durbin and Emanuel propose to fund the expanded health care by canceling two tax cuts scheduled to go into effect in 2006, which they said would make $30.6 billion available.

In an apparent jab at Republicans who control both Congress and the White House, Durbin said, "Some of the best ideas are coming from the grass roots, are coming from the state governments."

However, he and Emanuel were noncommittal on another of Blagojevich's proposals - for a new mortgage program aimed at helping poor and immigrant families, including illegal immigrants, buy homes. Both of them said they have to take a closer look at it.