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Bush Veto of Children's Health Bill Sets Stage for Political Confrontation

By Alex Wayne, CQ Staff

October 3, 2007—President Bush on Wednesday vetoed legislation to expand a children's health insurance program, drawing immediate fire from congressional Democrats and setting up an override showdown that could be politically perilous for some Republicans.

The bill Bush vetoed (HR 976) would expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, by $35 billion over the next five years, to $60 billion. That would be enough, Democrats say, to provide health coverage to 10 million children whose families are low-income but not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid—about 4 million more than the program now covers.

Expanding the program has been a major priority for congressional Democrats, who have talked of legislative measures to assist middle-class families stressed by stagnant wages, a deteriorating housing market and rapidly growing health care costs."

This bill would shift SCHIP away from its original purpose and turn it into a program that would cover children from some families of four earning almost $83,000 a year," said Bush, who had threatened to veto the bill for months.

"In addition, under this bill, government coverage would displace private health insurance for many children. If this bill were enacted, one out of every three children moving onto government coverage would be moving from private coverage."

About 2 million people who have health insurance or could obtain it would instead join SCHIP, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

"It is a shame that the president did not step away from his threats against this children's health bill," said Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont. "Let us be clear about what this veto means. The president is saying that millions of low-income, uninsured American children must continue to live with no health coverage while he presses his ideological concerns. He is willing to put the health of children in jeopardy just to get his way."

Bush has an unspoken reason for vetoing the bill, lawmakers say: Congress has not considered his health proposals, including new tax breaks to help families without employer-provided health insurance buy coverage on the open market. Democrats say the proposal is impractical and too costly.

The fight over SCHIP next returns to the House, where Democrats are working to round up enough votes to override Bush's veto. The Senate cleared the bill last week on a 67-29 vote, with two Democrats absent—a margin sufficient to override Bush. But the House vote last week was 265–159 with one "present" vote, 19 votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the House will try to override Bush's veto the week of Oct. 15, using the time before the vote to lobby Republicans to reverse course.

Democrats say they believe they can persuade a majority of the nine
members of their party who did not support the bill to vote to override Bush. But they would still need to win over some Republicans—estimates range from 15 to 19—to prevail.

"It's going to be a hard vote for Republicans to take. I know that no matter which way they vote, they're worried about it," Pelosi said.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the House Democrats' political arm, has launched an advertising campaign against eight Republicans seen as politically vulnerable and potential vote-switchers.

But a House GOP aide said Republican leaders have already met with all eight. "My message to those Democrats in succeeding is, 'good luck,'" the aide said.

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