Poll Reflects Republican Divisions on SCHIP A majority of Republicans polled by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health, said they support the SCHIP bill — but a majority also disapprove of Congress overriding the president's veto.
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Poll Reflects Republican Divisions on SCHIP

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Poll Reflects Republican Divisions on SCHIP

Poll Reflects Republican Divisions on SCHIP

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos.


Now, the House is set to vote tomorrow on whether to override that presidential veto. It was a veto of a bill to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, also known as SCHIP.

The bill is popular, but the tally is expected to fall short of the needed two-thirds majority, which means that the presidential veto will be sustained; it doesn't become law.

The results of a new poll by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health, help to explain why.

Here's NPR's Julie Rovner.

JULIE ROVNER: It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks for backers of the SCHIP bill. They've flooded the airwaves with ads and held hundreds of vigils and rallies and demonstrations, all in an effort to change the votes of about 15 Republican House members. That's how many votes they need to produce the two-thirds override majority for the bill to add $35 billion to the program over the next five years.

Yesterday they even brought singer Paul Simon to the Capitol, although he spoke rather than sang.

Mr. PAUL SIMON (Singer): I'm here today to ask those of you who supported the veto to reexamine your conscience, to find compassion in your heart for our most vulnerable and sweetest citizens, our children.

ROVNER: But so far not a single Republican who voted against the bill has said he or she intends to switch. And that's just in line with the results of the new poll conducted by NPR, Kaiser and Harvard over the last week. Bob Blendon is professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health. He helped designed the poll.

Dr. BOB BLENDON (Harvard School of Public Health): The majority would vote to overturn the president's veto on this, but enough of a minority wants to stay with the president's position that that veto is likely to be sustained.

ROVNER: Some of the president's arguments against the bill appear to coincide with public opinion, such as the one that it would allow children in families considered middle income to get government-subsidized health insurance.

Only a third of those polled said children in families making $60,000 a year should be eligible for the program, and only 15 percent said those at 80,000 should be eligible. No state currently covers children in families with incomes that high, although New York has asked for federal permission.

Blendon says that's one place opponents of the bill may find a toe-hold.

Dr. BLENDON: I think the sense that this program should be restricted to somewhat more modest income levels is the issue that has resonated most with the general public.

ROVNER: But the president has been less successful with this line of argument, which he repeated most recently on Monday during a speech in Arkansas.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Now, there are some in Washington, D.C. who genuinely believe that the best health care policy is to expand the role of the federal government.

ROVNER: According to the poll, more than half of respondents don't think expanding SCHIP would lead toward a government-run health care system. They included people like Earl Thayer, a political independent from Madison, Wisconsin.

Mr. EARL THAYER: We've heard that socialized-medicine bugaboo for 50 years.

ROVNER: Another 40 percent said they do think the SCHIP expansion might lead to government-run health care. But even that produced a surprise, said Mollyann Brodie of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Dr. MOLLYANN BRODIE (Kaiser Family Foundation) When we followed up, and we asked them about that, half of that group said that that was actually a good thing.

ROVNER: Including people like Martha Altier of Houston. She's an independent who voted for President Bush in 2004, but disagrees with his veto of the SCHIP bill.

Ms. MARTHA ALTIER: It's wrong for the United States to be the richest country in the world and for us to have homeless people, children without insurance, adults without insurance. I personally think we need socialized medicine like they have in Canada.

ROVNER: Still, while Democrats and independents are overwhelmingly in favor of the bill and the override, Republicans in the public, as in Congress, remain split. While a majority of Republicans in the poll said they support the bill, a majority also doesn't want Congress to override the president's veto. That's not as contradictory as it sounds, says Harvard's Blendon.

Dr. BLENDON: In the poll, 54 percent of them actually support expansion of the plan as was being debated. But when you get to overturning the veto, you really have six out of 10 that want to stay with the president, which shows that they think he knows something here that they weren't aware of or that they want to just support his leadership.

ROVNER: What the researchers said they found most striking about the poll, though, is how strong support for the bill remained even after people were given the arguments against it. That means that while the president's veto is likely to be sustained, the issue is not likely to go away anytime soon.

Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: Complete poll results on the Children's Health Insurance Program at npr.org/health.

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