WASHINGTON (BP)–Congress again has fallen short in an effort to override a presidential veto of the expansion of a children’s health insurance program.
On Jan. 23, the House of Representatives voted 260-152 in an attempt to override President Bush’s veto but fell 15 votes short of the two-thirds majority required to succeed. Proponents of the expansion actually lost votes. In October, the House was 13 votes short in its attempt to override Bush’s first veto.
Congress and the president are in conflict largely on the difference in increased spending for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). 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.
The president signed legislation in late 2007 to maintain SCHIP at its current enrollment through March 2009.
White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said after the latest override vote the president was pleased the House sustained his veto of “misguided legislation that would have expanded SCHIP to higher income households while increasing taxes.” She also said in a written statement, “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.”
Rep. Diana DeGette, D.-Colo., criticized Republicans, saying, “Our economic outlook has deteriorated since President Bush vetoed this bipartisan, compromise bill for the second time last year. By sustaining his veto, Congressional Republicans continue to stand between millions of children and the health care they need.”
The Democrats are seeking to add four million children to the more than six million now covered by SCHIP.
The SCHIP expansion vetoed by the president would have been underwritten by a 61-cent increase in the federal tobacco tax.
Bush’s latest veto occurred Dec. 12. He rejected such legislation the first time Oct. 3. The White House had promised after the second version’s passage that the president would send it back because the legislation still had “major flaws.”
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 the two most recent proposals, expressing concern both would mark a significant step toward government-run health care.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.