President Bush this morning vetoed a plan to increase funding for a children’s health care program by $35 billion, on the grounds that the increase is a step by the Democratic-controlled Congress toward government-run health programs.
“This legislation would move health care in this country in the wrong direction,” Mr. Bush said, adding that the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, should be expanded by $5 billion instead.
“The president remains someone who is committed to expanding SCHIP and wants to make sure that the neediest children are covered first,” said White House press secretary Dana Perino.
Democrats have “only sent a bill that they knew the president couldn’t sign and then used a lot of different ways to demagogue the issue against the president,” Mrs. Perino said.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said the president’s “incomprehensible veto of this bipartisan, fiscally responsible legislation … demonstrates a stunning lack of compassion for some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada called the veto “heartless.”
“President Bush has turned his back on America’s children, and he stands alone,” Mr. Reid said.
Democrats and the liberal group MoveOn.org have increased efforts to portray Republicans as “anti-children” for opposing the SCHIP bill.
The aggressive campaign, including radio ads by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) in Republican districts, is targeting constituents through automated telephone calls and e-mails.
“We’re going district by district to tell Republicans and President Bush to stop obstructing progress and start putting children first,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat and DCCC chairman.
“Republicans who continue to vote in lockstep with President Bush and against children will be held accountable,” Mr. Van Hollen said.
The House last week passed the measure in a 265-159 vote — about 20 votes shy of what would be needed to override a veto. The Senate passed the measure by a “veto-proof” margin of 67-29.
Mr. Hoyer said about 15 Republicans would need to change their votes to overturn a veto, adding that the prospect is attainable.
Eight Democrats voted against the bill, and three others didn’t vote.
House Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri said he is “absolutely confident” that House Republicans will be able to sustain the president’s veto.
SCHIP is a federal-state partnership that subsidizes the cost of insuring children in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance.
The measure would add about 3.8 million persons to the 6.6 million currently enrolled. Its price tag would increase from $25 billion to $60 billion during the next five years under the Democrats’ bill.
Mr. Bush has argued that the Democrats’ funding increase would add not only poor children but also some children from families that can afford private health care and even some adults.
“Their proposal would result in taking a program meant to help poor children and turning it into one that covers children in households with incomes of up to $83,000 a year,” Mr. Bush said last month.
The president called the plan “an incremental step toward the goal of government-run health care for every American.”