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Bush vetoes child insurance expansion

WASHINGTON (BP)–As promised, President Bush vetoed Oct. 3 the reauthorization and expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) despite it easily having passed both houses of Congress.

The veto, only Bush’s fourth, sets up an override effort that starts out almost 20 votes short of the necessary two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives.

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.

The Bush-vetoed bill would expand SCHIP by $35 billion over five years, far more than the $5 billion expansion proposed by the president. The White House and other critics oppose the new SCHIP measure because they say, for one thing, it would cover families of four that earn as much as 300 percent of the federal poverty level, about $62,000 a year. It also would permit New York “to grandfather in” its effort to include families of four at 400 percent of the poverty level, more than $82,000 a year, foes say.

After vetoing the bill, Bush said in a written message to the House he had done so because the measure “would move health care in this country in the wrong direction.” The legislation would place children covered by private health insurance under government coverage, although it would not completely fund the new spending required, thus increasing taxes on “working Americans,” said Bush, who called for Congress to work with him on the issue.

“Our 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 president said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D.-Nev., condemned what he described as Bush’s “heartless veto.”

“With today’s veto, President Bush has turned his back on America’s children and he stands alone,” Reid said in a written release. The bill would help 6.6 million children already in SCHIP and add another 4 million to the program, Reid said.

The SCHIP expansion in the congressionally approved bill would be underwritten by a 61-cent increase in the federal tobacco tax.

The Senate approved the measure Sept. 27 in a 67-29 vote, after the House had passed the same bill in a 265-159 roll call two days earlier.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) has commended the original SCHIP, but it opposes the expanded reauthorization, expressing concern it would mark a significant step toward socialized medicine.

Barrett Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy and research, commended the president for making the “right choice.”

“What Congress sent him was too excessive,” Duke told Baptist Press. “It would certainly have expanded this needed program beyond its original intention and would have put the government in the business of paying insurance premiums for people who do not need the assistance. It is my hope that Congress will lay aside its political posturing and send the president a bill that mirrors the original SCHIP plan. Millions of children depend on this plan. They shouldn’t be left out in the cold because Congress failed to do its job.”
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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