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House fails in attempt to override Bush SCHIP veto

WASHINGTON (BP)–The House of Representatives failed Oct. 18 to override President Bush’s veto of a bill expanding a popular children’s health insurance program.

The House failure came despite two weeks of pressure on Republican members to depart from the president after he vetoed the reauthorization and expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) Oct. 3. Supporters of the bill actually had one fewer Republican vote on the override attempt than they did on passage in late September.

The override vote was 273-156, leaving it 13 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to overcome a veto. The vote for passage Sept. 25 was 265-159.

The battle between Congress and the president is over how much to spend to expand 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 who 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 White House and other critics opposed the now defeated SCHIP measure because they say, for one thing, it would have reached beyond the program’s original goal and would have covered families of four that earn as much as 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $62,000 a year. It also would have permitted New York “to grandfather in” its effort to include families of four at 400 percent of the poverty level, or more than $82,000 a year, foes say.

As a result, the bill would have moved children already covered by private insurance to government-funded coverage, Bush said.

After the vote, the White House said Bush was pleased the House had sustained his veto and indicated a willingness to work with Congress on expanding the program.

“We look forward to finding common ground on legislation that covers the more than 500,000 poor children who are eligible for SCHIP but have not yet been enrolled,” the White House said in a written statement. “If enrolling these children requires more than the 20 percent funding increase proposed by the President, we will work with Congress to find the necessary money.”

Before the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California urged members to expand the program by opposing the president. “This is not about an issue. It’s about a value,” she said, according to the Associated Press. “For the cost of less than 40 days in Iraq, we can provide SCHIP coverage for 10 million children for one year.”

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

“Americans do not want to move to government-run health care, and they expect people who can afford health care to pay for it themselves. Those are the main lessons from today’s failed vote to overturn the president’s veto of the expansive SCHIP bill,” said Barrett Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy.

“Now that Congress has the message, I hope they will return to the drafting rooms and come up with a SCHIP bill like the wonderfully successful original one,” he said. “Millions of truly needy children depend on SCHIP. If any of them loses the care SCHIP was originally designed to provide, the legislators should be held responsible. I hope for these kids’ sakes liberals in Congress will stop trying to force their socialist agenda on the American people and instead think about the children they can help.”

In the Oct. 18 roll call, 229 Democrats and 44 Republicans voted for the override. Two Democrats joined 154 GOP members in opposing it.

The Senate may have had the votes for an override. It did Sept. 27, when it passed the measure with a 67-29 vote.

The SCHIP expansion in the vetoed bill would have been underwritten by a 61-cent increase in the federal tobacco tax.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press.