Network news did not report CBO assessment that Bush's SCHIP proposal sharply underfunds program

››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

In reports on President Bush's latest threat to veto legislation increasing funding by $35 billion for a health plan for poor children, neither NBC's Nightly News, ABC's World News, nor the CBS Evening News noted that Bush's alternative proposal -- a $5 billion expansion over five years -- would, according to the Congressional Budget Office, underfund the program by approximately $9* billion.

In reports on President Bush's latest threat to veto legislation increasing funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by $35 billion over five years, neither NBC's Nightly News, ABC's World News, nor the CBS Evening News noted that Bush's alternative proposal -- a $5 billion expansion over five years -- would, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), underfund the program by $9* billion during that period. Further, on the Nightly News, NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory reported that "Democrats want to expand this program, which provides health insurance to low-income children around the country, and they want to spend more money on it, much more than the administration wants to spend." But contrary to Gregory's suggestion that only "Democrats want to expand this program," Senate Republicans have also criticized the smaller increase the Bush administration has proposed.

Per the funding levels set in the original SCHIP legislation, the program cost the federal government $5 billion in 2007. If this baseline level were preserved over the next five years, to 2012, SCHIP would receive $25 billion* in funding.

In his FY 2008 budget request released in February, Bush sought a $5 billion increase over this period, for a total of $30 billion in funding. In May, the CBO estimated that "maintaining the states' current programs under SCHIP would require funding of $39 billion for the 2007-2012 period and $98 billion over the 2007-2017 period -- increases of $14 billion and $48 billion, respectively, over the baseline spending levels." When the Senate announced a bipartisan proposal in July to increase SCHIP funding by $35 billion over this five-year period, Bush threatened to veto such a plan. The House subsequently passed a similar proposal and, on September 18, The Washington Post reported that "[k]ey lawmakers in the House and Senate negotiated into the night yesterday on a deal that would expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program by $35 billion over the next five years." In a September 20 press conference, Bush threatened to veto the proposal. However, reports on the standoff by ABC, CBS, and NBC's nightly news programs failed to note the CBO's assessment that SCHIP would not be able to maintain projected enrollment levels under Bush's alternative proposal.

In addition, on NBC, Gregory suggested that it is only Democrats who want to increase funding for the SCHIP program. In fact, numerous congressional Republicans also want to spend more on SCHIP "than the administration wants to spend." From a September 21 Post article:

Republicans reacted angrily yesterday to President Bush's promise to veto a bill that would renew and expand the popular State Children's Health Insurance Program, raising the likelihood of significant GOP defections when the package comes to a vote next week.

"I'm disappointed by the president's comments," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who urged Bush, in an early-morning telephone conversation yesterday, to support the emerging bipartisan compromise. "Drawing lines in the sand at this stage isn't constructive. ... I wish he would engage Congress in a bill that he could sign instead of threatening a veto."

"I'm very, very disappointed," said Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.). "I'm going to be voting for it."

Further, on August 2, the Senate bill to expand SCHIP by $35 billion over five years passed by a vote of 68-31, with 17 Republicans voting in favor. In contrast with NBC, both ABC's and CBS' reports noted Republican criticism of Bush's proposal during their September 20 broadcasts.

From the September 20 edition of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams:

BRIAN WILLIAMS (anchor): And, David, a big story came out of the White House today, part of it unintended, on insuring American children.

GREGORY: Yeah. This has become a pretty heated political battle. Democrats want to expand this program, which provides health insurance to low-income children around the country, and they want to spend more money on it, much more than the administration wants to spend. That allowed the president today to go on the attack against Democrats, saying that they want to federalize health care and they want to simply endanger this program by not renewing it. This is sensitive because it's an arrangement between the federal government and the states to provide this insurance -- all sides now scrambling for a solution before the program runs out, Brian.

WILLIAMS: All right. We'll stay on it. David Gregory on the north lawn of the White House for us tonight.

From the September 20 edition of CBS' Evening News with Katie Couric:

KATIE COURIC (anchor): President Bush opened a news conference today by attacking a proposed expansion of a health-care program for low-income children. He promised to veto Democratic legislation that would sharply increase the number of children who would qualify. Jim Axelrod has more.

[begin video clip]

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 5:30 this morning, she woke up with a fever --

AXELROD: Christina Brassi (ph) is taking her baby daughter to a doctor at Harlem's Milbank Health Center in New York. The 10-month-old is one of more than six million poor kids nationwide covered by the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP.

With the program set to expire in 10 days, President Bush wants a $5 billion increase in SCHIP funding over five years -- 20 percent more than now. But Congress wants to boost it $35 billion to cover several million more kids.

BUSH: I believe this is a step toward federalization of health care. I know that their proposal is beyond the scope of the program, and that's why I'm going to veto the bill.

AXELROD: At its root, this is a philosophical dispute. The president says Democrats want to make millions more eligible who aren't poor.

BUSH: Members of Congress are putting health coverage for poor children at risk so they can score political points in Washington.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The president is alone in this opposition to this legislation.

AXELROD: Democrats counter the president is freezing out struggling Americans ineligible for Medicaid but who can't afford to buy insurance.

So far, the Senate has passed a version by a veto-proof majority, but the House has not. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi knows the president's veto threat could easily become reality.

PELOSI: The president is saying, "I forbid 10 million children in America to have health care."

[end video clip]

AXELROD: Even Republicans like Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley are calling on President Bush to compromise, but the president has another reason to play tough -- letting anyone who thinks he's a lame duck know he's still here slugging.

Jim Axelrod, CBS News, the White House.

COURIC: Coming up next: friends in need. Proof again that a dog can, indeed, be man's best friend.

From the September 20 edition of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:

CHARLES GIBSON (anchor): In Washington, a major battle has erupted between President Bush and Democrats over health care for children. At issue is a bill providing health insurance to millions of kids whose parents cannot afford private coverage. Democrats and some Republicans propose a program far more extensive than the president says he'll accept. Here's ABC's Martha Raddatz.

[begin video clip]

RADDATZ: Susan Dick depends on the so-called SCHIP program for her two sons -- both of whom have asthma. The family income is too low for private insurance, too high for Medicaid.

DICK: We're an everyday, middle American family that needs this coverage.

RADDATZ: Since the program was enacted in 1997, the number of children with health insurance has increased by 25 percent. The Senate and House bill calls for an additional $35 billion over the next five years. That would allow 4 million additional children to be covered. The White House says that's too expensive. The president said today, that expanding the program would encourage more people to get on government health care, instead of private insurance.

BUSH: Instead of expanding SCHIP beyond its original purpose, we should return it to its original focus -- and that is helping poor children, those who are most in need.

RADDATZ: The expansion has bipartisan support across the country, including from many Republicans, who criticized the president's threat to veto the legislation.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R-CA): We all sit there and they say, "Where did that come from?" I mean, you can't go and wipe out the deficit on the backs of the children. I mean, you can't.

RADDATZ: Governor Schwarzenegger and others say more money is needed for the SCHIP program because the rising cost of health care has caused more and more families to need exactly the kind of help this program provides.

DICK: If my boys don't have health insurance, it makes it very hard when you're a parent to know that they're sick and you have to get them to the doctor.

[end video clip]

RADDATZ: But the president made it very clear, today, Charlie. He will veto this bill in its present form.

GIBSON: Martha Raddatz reporting tonight from the White House.

*Correction: This Item originally stated: "In reports on President Bush's latest threat to veto legislation increasing funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by $35 billion over five years, neither NBC's Nightly News, ABC's World News, nor the CBS Evening News noted that Bush's alternative proposal -- a $5 billion expansion over five years -- would, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), underfund the program by $14 billion during that period." ... "If this baseline level were preserved over the next five years, to 2012, SCHIP would receive $25 million in funding." In fact, given a five-year baseline of $25 billion and a $5 billion funding increase, Bush's alternative proposal would underfund the program by $9 billion over five years, which neither NBC's Nightly News, ABC's World News, nor the CBS Evening News noted. Media Matters for America regrets the error.

Posted In
Health Care, Children's Health
Network/Outlet
CBS, NBC, ABC
Show/Publication
ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News
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