Sunday, October 7, 2007

President Bush said yesterday he is willing to spend more money on a children’s health care proposal he vetoed last week on the grounds that it was too costly.

It was the president’s first public gesture of a possible compromise with the Democrat-controlled Congress on how much to expand the popular State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP.

“If putting poor children first takes a little more than the 20 percent increase I have proposed in my budget for SCHIP, I am willing to work with leaders in Congress to find the additional money.” Mr. Bush said during his weekly radio address.

Congress last month passed a bill that would have allocated an additional $35 billion for the 10-year-old program over the next five years, raising funding to $60 billion.

The measure would have added an estimated 3.8 million children to the 6.6 million currently enrolled in the program.

Mr. Bush has proposed a more modest $5 billion increase.

The president offered no specifics yesterday about how much more money he would be willing to spend. But he continued his overall attacks on the bill, calling it “deeply flawed” and “an incremental step toward [the Democrats’] goal of government-run health care for every American.”

“Government-run health care would deprive Americans of the choice and competition that comes from the private market,” he said. “It would cause huge increases in government spending.”

Mr. Bush said the bill would allow states to seek waivers to extend coverage to families in some high-tax states making up to $83,000 or more annually.

But Democrats say only one state, New York, has asked for a waiver to expand the program to four times the poverty level, which would be about $83,000 in the state for a family of four. The administration rejected the request.

Democrats add that most SCHIP beneficiaries get coverage through private insurers that contract with states.

“The truth is, America’s largest private insurance lobbying group supports this bill — as do America’s doctors, nurses, children’s advocates and, most importantly, 72 percent of Americans,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said yesterday during the Democrats’ weekly radio address.

SCHIP, which is a federal-state partnership, subsidizes the cost of insuring children in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance.

Congressional Democratic leaders say votes to override the president’s veto will be held in mid-October, although the effort is expected to fail.

While the Senate passed the SCHIP bill by a vote of 67-29, exceeding the two-thirds majority needed to overturn a veto, the House tally was 265-159 — about 20 votes shy of the number needed to override a veto there.

Democratic leaders say about 15 Republicans would need to change their votes in order to overturn a veto — a prospect they say is attainable.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in recent days has been running pro-SCHIP radio advertisements in the districts of several House Republicans who voted against the bill.

And a coalition of unions and liberal advocacy groups such as and Americans United for Change have begun what they say is a multimillion-dollar media campaign in an attempt to persuade Republicans who voted against the bill to vote to override the veto.

“If Republicans fail to override the president’s veto, we will run targeted local TV ads against Republicans who vote against children’s health care,” said Noah T. Winer of

But House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, said last week he is “absolutely confident” that House Republicans will be able to sustain the president’s veto.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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