WASHINGTON – With no ceremony for television cameras, President Bush will veto a bill today expanding a popular health care program for children by $35 billion.
The move will set up a veto fight that Bush probably will win but will give Democrats a campaign issue for next year’s elections. They will argue the veto shows Bush and his Republican allies are insensitive to low-income children who are uninsured through no fault of their own.
The Senate passed the bill with enough votes to override the veto, with 18 Republicans lining up with Democrats. But the House fell about two dozen votes shy of the number needed to override.
Bush argues the expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, is a step toward socialized medicine and would entice people with private coverage to switch to government-financed plans.
In Congress, Democrats didn’t wait for Bush’s veto to begin campaigning against Republicans who oppose the expansion.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched radio ads Monday attacking eight GOP House members who voted against the bill and face potentially tough re-election campaigns next year. Democratic lawmakers held a string of events highlighting the issue, including a parade of children bearing anti-veto signs and T-shirts in front of the White House on Monday.
By mid-afternoon Tuesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., had hosted three events devoted to the SCHIP issue. He said Democrats would continue to implore 15 House Republicans to switch positions and overturn the veto, but he acknowledged that none had agreed to so far.
Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, said a coalition of liberal groups planned more than 200 events throughout the nation to highlight the SCHIP issue.
The group, which includes MoveOn.org and several unions, will flood Congress “with hundreds of thousands of calls, letters and e-mails, all demanding that members of Congress vote to override Bush’s SCHIP veto,” McEntee told reporters Tuesday.
The coalition will devote $3 million to $5 million to the effort, he said.
House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said he was “absolutely confident” the House would sustain Bush’s veto.
Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Congress should be able to reach a compromise with Bush once he vetoes the bill.
“We can do this,” Lott said. “But we should not allow it to be expanded to higher and higher income levels, and to adults. This is about poor children.”