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Bush veto holding on CHIP

“Isn’t that sad for America’s children?” asked U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on October 14, 2007.  The legislator was appearing on ABC’s “This Week” to discuss new health insurance legislation that President George Bush had just vetoed.

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The bill would have increased coverage under the Children’s Health Insurance Program by an estimated 3.4 million children to a total of approximately 10 million children covered.  Funding for the measures was included in the proposed legislation in the form of a 61� increase in the Federal cigarette tax to $1 per pack.

Many Democrats and a few Republicans touted the bill as a bipartisan, bicameral compromise.  In a preliminary press release, Democrats Pelosi, Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), John Dingell (D-Mich), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) and Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) all endorsed the bill, and were joined by prominent Republican senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill).

The bill passed both House and Senate despite President Bush’s warning of a veto.  True to his word, he slapped the veto on the bill on October 10, only the fourth veto of his Presidential career.

In the President’s opinion, which he announced before the vote and reiterated multiple times, a $35 billion increase on Federal funding of health care was far too much.  Bush had recommended a $5 billion increase to Congress, hoping to limit the spending and balance a teetering budget.

Bush also criticized the idea of funding health care for citizens who could in fact afford private health insurance.  He also, in true conservative fashion, declared that better care would be available more quickly, efficiently and cheaply if provided privately.

The program expansion was designed as an insurance bridge to span the gap between those eligible for Medicaid and those who could afford private insurance.  According to the Democrats (as well as the Republicans who supported the measure), government funded health insurance is necessary for those who fall below the 250% poverty line, which usually amounts to a family income just over $50,000.  Critics of the plan of course call such extensive aid ridiculous.

After Bush vetoed the bill, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders began campaigning for a Congressional override, and secured the necessary votes in the Senate.  But similar efforts in the House soon stalled, and the matter appears to be resolved for the time being.

Meanwhile, of course, there are the requisite politics being played.  Appearing on the same show as Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell characterized the situation as a game of leverage, saying, “Neither side is going to leave these kids uninsured…. The coverage is going to be provided in some way.”

The debate bears interesting angles on the Presidential election next year, as the candidates almost split neatly along party lines.  The notable exception was Dennis Kucinich, who voted against the measure in the House, and then voted to override the Presidential veto because he claimed it was important to hold Bush “accountable.”

So for now, Republican candidates Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and John McCain are the winners insofar as the bill failed to become law.  However, some analysts predict that the Democrats will claim a moral upper hand come next fall as the supporters of expanded children’s health programs, and therefore of children.  But that’s a question only time will answer.

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