Burlington County Times

Saxton Remains Steadfast On SCHIP Issue

Burlington County Times — Wednesday, October 17, 2007

By DAVID LEVINSKY and JASON HARRIS
Burlington County Times

MOUNT HOLLY — Hours before a candlelight vigil last night in front of his office on High Street, U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton announced he would vote this week to uphold the veto by President Bush of a government-subsidized health-insurance program for children.

Saxton, R-3rd of Mount Holly, said he would not be swayed by political attacks orchestrated by Democratic leaders against him as part of the political fight over funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program, also called SCHIP.

He said he voted to create the program and supports some increase in funding for it, but said he continues to oppose the $35 billion increase proposed by the Democratic leadership.

"I have no choice but to believe this is a political move by the Democrats who hope to use this as a wedge issue in hopes of increasing their majority in the House next year," Saxton said yesterday.

Saxton added that he believes the American people are "too smart" to be fooled by the criticism directed against him.

"The Democrats are being less than candid with the American people, and I hope the American people understand that," Saxton said.

But during last night's vigil, Teresa Soca of Willingboro, a nursing home attendant and part-time housekeeper, said Saxton doesn't understand how important SCHIP is to her and her four children.

"I don't want this taken away from us," she said. "My kids wouldn't make it without it."

Soca said she works two jobs but can't afford health insurance. Her family receives health care through NJ Family Care, a state-run health insurance program for children funded by SCHIP.

Her oldest daughter, Laura Soca, just enrolled her 8-month-old daughter in Family Care. The younger woman said the health insurance program should be expanded.

"It's not easy to pay those bills," Laura Soca said.

The Socas were among about 100 people who chanted and prayed in front of Saxton's office for a little over an hour.

New Jersey Citizen Action and the Service Employees International Union organized the vigil, one of 220 such events across the country.

Jim Walsh, program director of the Citizen Action Central Jersey office, said only 15 legislators need to change their votes to override the president's veto.

"It's really a moral issue," he said. "We're spending billions on the Iraq War, something Congressman Saxton supports, while at the same time he's standing in the way of health care for children."

Many of the speakers and those in attendance criticized Saxton for what they called standing with President Bush on what should be a nonpartisan issue.

T. Wayne Scott of Willingboro said he is a Democrat who voted for Saxton in the past, but said the congressman had become "a rubber stamp for the president."

"Jim Saxton is a good man, I'm not going to disparage his character," said Assemblyman Herb Cona-way, D-7th of Delanco, who also is a physician. "But I think he needs to be informed of the cost paid by working families in New Jersey and all over the country if he doesn't change his mind."

SCHIP provides coverage for 6.6 million people nationwide, mostly children whose families make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to pay for private health insurance. The federal government shares the funding burden and the programs are managed by state governments.

Saxton was one of 159 U.S. House members who vo-ted against a bill to reauthorize the SCHIP program with an additional $35 billion in funding over five years. Doing so would have allowed health coverage to be extended to children and some adults from higher income families.

Funding for the increase is provided by a 61-cent increase in the federal cigarette tax.

The bill passed the House and Senate, but the final tally in the House was 15 votes short of the total needed to overturn a presidential veto.

As promised, Bush vetoed the bill this month. Democrats are expected to call tomorrow for a House vote to override that veto

Since voting against the bill, Saxton has been widely criticized by New Jersey Democrats, who claim his stand puts children already in the program at risk of losing their coverage.

"If this veto override fails, over 11,000 New Jersey children will lose access to their pediatricians for regular check-ups and vaccinations or whenever they get sick," state Sen. John Adler of Cherry Hill said yesterday.

Adler, a Democrat, has announced his intention to run for Saxton's seat next year.

Saxton responded by saying he has voted to extend existing SCHIP funding through November so that coverage is not interrupted while Congress and the administration broker a compromise.

He said his critics fail to mention the estimated 119,000 eligible children in New Jersey who have not enrolled in NJ FamilyCare.

"Democrats are shamelessly using children's health care as a political tool," Saxton said. "We ought to cover the hundreds of thousands of poor, still uninsured children before we expand the program to include even more adults, some households making over $80,000 per year, and illegal aliens."

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