WASHINGTON – In what could be a major political setback for President Bush, the Senate voted late Thursday to increase funding by $35 billion for a popular health insurance program for low-income children.
The bipartisan measure passed 68-31, with enough support from Republicans to override a promised veto by Bush.
Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Democrats, voted to pass the bill. Idaho Sens. Larry Craig and Mike Crapo, both Republicans, voted against it.
The Children’s Health Insurance Reauthorization Act provides a five-year $35 billion budget hike for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private health insurance.
By a vote of 225-204 on Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed a Democratic bill that would increase program funding by nearly $50 billion over five years.
Bush has promised to veto the legislation, saying it would be too expensive and would constitute a first step toward government-funded universal health coverage, which many Democrats support. The president and many GOP leaders prefer tax incentives to help more Americans buy their own private coverage.
The president’s veto threat appeared solid after the House vote failed to garner a veto-proof majority. But early Thursday evening, Senate bill co-sponsors Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, could hardly contain their excitement as support for their bill continued to grow among Republicans.
Senate and House negotiators will have a tough time merging the Senate bill with the House bill, which contains a number of Democrat-backed changes to the Medicare program.
If the president does veto the final bill, Congress may be forced to reauthorize the program without enacting comprehensive funding legislation. That’s because the program is set to expire on Sept. 30.