Bush again vetoes child insurance bill

WASHINGTON (BP)--President Bush has vetoed for the second time the expansion of a children's health insurance program.

Bush rejected Dec. 12 a bill reauthorizing and expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The president vetoed the SCHIP legislation the first time Oct. 3. The latest veto was a foregone conclusion, since the White House had promised after the second version's passage that Bush would send it back because the legislation still had "major flaws."

The conflict between Congress and the president focuses largely on the difference in increased spending for the 10-year-old program. The Bush-vetoed bill would have expanded SCHIP by $35 billion over five years; the president proposed a $5 billion expansion.

SCHIP provides federal funds to states to cover children in low-income families that are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid but unable to afford private insurance. SCHIP, which went into effect in 1997, has provided $40 billion over the last 10 years.

In vetoing the bill for the second time, Bush said in a letter to the House of Representatives the latest SCHIP legislation "does not put poor children first and it moves our country's health care system in the wrong direction. Ultimately, our Nation's goal should be to move children who have no health insurance to private coverage -– not to move children who already have private health insurance to government coverage."

The latest version would have provided government coverage for 2 million children who already have private insurance, Bush said.

The president reiterated he was willing to work with Congress by adding funds to his proposal without increasing taxes.

After the first veto, Congress did not reduce the $35 billion expansion but revised it in an attempt to gain more votes by barring illegal immigrants from the program, capping the ceiling on recipients at 300 percent of the poverty level and moving adults out of the program in half as much time.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has commended the original SCHIP, but it has opposed both of this year's proposals, expressing concern both would mark a significant step toward government-run health care.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi described Bush's veto as a "sad action."

"Let it be clear that Democrats will not rest until 10 million children in America have access to health care, and that it is paid for," Pelosi said.

Pelosi said a bill would be introduced quickly to fund the program through the end of the fiscal year.

After Bush's first veto, the House attempted an override Oct. 18. The vote was 273-156, leaving the bill's supporters 13 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for an override.

A week later, the House passed the revised version with a vote of 265-142. The Senate voted 64-30 Nov. 1 for the new version. While the Senate's margin achieved a two-thirds majority, the House roll call fell seven votes short.

The SCHIP expansion vetoed by the president would have been underwritten by a 61-cent increase in the federal tobacco tax.


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