Bush vetoes child health insurance plan
03 October, 2007
By JENNIFER LOVEN
WASHINGTON – President Bush, in a sharp confrontation with Congress, on Wednesday vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have dramatically expanded children’s health insurance.
It was only the fourth veto of Bush’s presidency, and one that some Republicans feared could carry steep risks for their party in next year’s elections. The Senate approved the bill with enough votes to override the veto, but the margin in the House fell short of the required number.
Democrats unleashed a stream of harsh rhetoric, as they geared up for a battle to both improve their chances of winning a veto override and score political points against Republicans who oppose the expansion.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., decried Bush’s action as a “heartless veto.”
“Never has it been clearer how detached President Bush is from the priorities of the American people,” Reid said in a statement. “By vetoing a bipartisan bill to renew the successful Children’s Health Insurance Program, President Bush is denying health care to millions of low-income kids in America.”
Democratic congressional leaders said they may put off the override attempt for as long as two weeks to maximize pressure on Republican House members whose votes will be critical.
“We remain committed to making SCHIP into law — with or without the president’s support,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., referring to the full name of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
The White House sought little attention for Bush’s action, with the president casting his veto behind closed doors without any fanfare or news coverage. He defended it later Wednesday during a budget speech in Lancaster, Pa., addressing a welcoming audience organized by the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry in GOP-friendly Pennsylvania Dutch country.
“Poor kids first,” Bush said. “Secondly, I believe in private medicine, not the federal government running the health care system.”
But he seemed eager to avert a full-scale showdown over the difficult issue, offering that he is “more than willing” to negotiate with lawmakers “if they need a little more money in the bill to help us meet the objective of getting help for poor children.”
The program is a joint state-federal effort that subsidizes health coverage for 6.6 million people, mostly children, from families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford their own private coverage.
The Democrats who control Congress, with significant support from Republicans, passed the legislation to add $35 billion over five years to allow an additional 4 million children into the program. It would be funded by raising the federal cigarette tax by 61 cents to $1 per pack.
The president argued that the Democratic bill was too costly, took the program too far beyond its original intent of helping the poor, and would entice people now covered in the private sector to switch to government coverage. He has proposed only a $5 billion increase in funding. After Bush’s speech, White House counselor Ed Gillespie said the president’s offer of more money meant more than the $5 billion extra, but he wasn’t specific about how much more.
Democrats deny Bush’s charge that their plan is a move toward socialized medicine that short-changes the poor, saying their goal is to cover more of the millions of uninsured children and noting that the bill provides financial incentives for states to cover their lowest-income children first. Of the over 43 million people nationwide who lack health insurance, over 6 million are under 18 years old. That’s over 9 percent of all children.
Eighteen Republicans joined Democrats in the Senate, enough to override Bush’s veto. But in the House, supporters of the bill are about two dozen votes short of a successful override, despite sizable Republican support. A two-thirds majority in both chambers is needed.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Democrats were imploring 15 House Republicans to switch positions but had received no agreements so far.
House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said he was “absolutely confident” that the House would be able to sustain Bush’s expected veto.
Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Congress should be able to reach a compromise with Bush once he vetoes the bill. “We should not allow it to be expanded to higher and higher income levels, and to adults. This is about poor children,” he said. “But we can work it out.”
It took Bush six years to veto his first bill, when he blocked expanded federal research using embryonic stem cells last summer. In May, he vetoed a spending bill that would have required troop withdrawals from Iraq. In June, he vetoed another bill to ease restraints on federally funded stem cell research.
In the case of the health insurance program, the veto is a bit of a high-stakes gambit for Bush, pitting him against both the Democrats who have controlled both houses of Congress since January, but also many members of his own party and the public.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched radio ads Monday attacking eight GOP House members who voted against the bill and face potentially tough re-election campaigns next year.
And Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, said a coalition of liberal groups was staging more than 200 events throughout the nation on Thursday to highlight the issue. The group, which includes MoveOn.org, and several unions, also has a goal of more than 1 million contacts to Congress through calls, letters and e-mails demanding that lawmakers override Bush’s veto. The coalition is spending $3 million to $5 million on the effort.