Washington Post, January 24, 2008: Bush’s Second Child Insurance Veto Stands in House
By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 24, 2008; A04
House Democrats failed for the second time in nearly four months yesterday to override President Bush’s veto of a proposed $35 billion expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
The 260 to152 tally left backers of the legislation about 15 votes short of the two-thirds majority of lawmakers voting necessary to override the president’s Dec. 12 veto. Forty-two Republicans supported the override attempt, two fewer than in the previous effort to reject Bush’s Oct. 3 veto of an earlier version of the bill.
Democrats argued that the nation’s economic troubles made expanding a program that provides subsidized health insurance to children of the working poor all the more important.
“With the economy taking a sour turn, now is not the time to deny the most innocent and helpless Americans — children whose parents can’t afford health insurance — what they so desperately need,” said Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Republicans pointed out that last month Congress approved enough money to fund the program, known as SCHIP, through March 2009.
“There is no child currently on SCHIP that is going to lose coverage, regardless of the vote today,” said Rep. Joe L. Barton (R-Tex.), the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The fight over the program turned into one of Washington’s biggest political battles last year.
The vetoed bills would have expanded the $5 billion-a-year program by an average of $7 billion a year over the next five years, for total funding of $60 billion over the period. That would have boosted enrollment to 10 million children, up from 6.6 million, and substantially reduced the ranks of the nation’s 9 million uninsured children, supporters said.
But Bush and many Republicans said the legislation would extend coverage to middle-class children and encourage some families to drop private insurance. Republicans also objected to raising cigarette taxes to pay for it.
Bipartisan support in the Senate assured backers enough votes to override a veto there; the House was the problem.
Democratic congressional leaders modified the bill, tightening rules to exclude illegal immigrants, adding incentives for states to drop families earning more than three times the poverty level, and forcing adults out of the program more quickly. But the second bill attracted even fewer Republican votes, and Bush vetoed it again.
“Ultimately, our goal should be to move children who have no health insurance to private coverage — not to move children who already have private insurance to government coverage,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said yesterday.
Yesterday’s defeat was expected, but Democrats said they will not give up. “This won’t be your last opportunity this year to address this issue,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told fellow lawmakers.