WASHINGTON – The Senate, by a wide margin, on Thursday approved a bill to expand health insurance for children of low-income working parents, sending it to President Bush as backers mounted a last-ditch effort to persuade him not to cast a long-threatened veto.
The 67-29 vote was only one more than required to approve the bill over the president’s objections, and supporters in the House are about 25 votes short of the two-thirds majority required for an override.
So backers, including some Republicans, are stepping up their appeals to Bush.
The American Medical Association and AARP, the seniors’ lobby – key Bush allies in the creation of the Medicare prescription benefit – wrote the president Thursday urging him to change his mind and sign what they called a “carefully crafted bipartisan compromise.”
And on the Senate floor, some of the sharpest challenges to Bush’s position came from Republicans. GOP supporters of the bill said the administration is misinformed – and even misleading the public when it argued that the bill’s provisions for extending aid upward to families far from the poverty line would put the nation on a slippery slope toward ” socialized medicine.”
“The administration is threatening to veto this bill because of ‘excessive spending’ and their belief that this bill is a step toward federalization of health care,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., a backer of the plan. “I am not for excessive spending and strongly oppose the federalization of health care. And if the administration’s concerns with this bill were accurate, I would support a veto. But, bluntly put, they are not.”
At issue is the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, a federal-state partnership that provides coverage to about 6 million children. Congress wants to spend $60 billion on the program over the next five years, enough to cover an additional 3 million to 4 million children, including some whose parents earn substantially more than present eligibility rules permit.
The expansion would be paid for with a stiff boost in tobacco taxes.
Bush has proposed spending $30 billion on the program, which independent analysts say is not enough to maintain the current caseload.