WASHINGTON — The Senate defied President Bush, Nov. 2, and approved for a third time a new version of the SCHIP children’s health care program by a 64-30 vote. Meanwhile, House leaders struggled to win over enough Republicans to pass the measure with bipartisan support in the face of yet another veto threat.
Bush vetoed the measure last month for the second time and the House fell seven votes short of the two-thirds supermajority needed to override the veto.
Now the lawmakers are trying once again to push through renewal of the highly popular program. But Bush says he will veto it, complaining that the lawmakers are “wasting time.”
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) retorted, “Only this president could consider it ‘wasting time’ to pursue a bill that provides health coverage for 10 million children.” Bush, he added, “holds out one hand asking for $200 billion for Iraq this year, as he uses the other hand to veto these investments in our families.”
As approved by the Senate, the measure would continue protection of the 6.6 million children now enrolled and add another 4 million youngsters. SCHIP, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, currently costs $25 billion each year. The expansion would cost an additional $35 billion over the next five years.
Bush complains that it is too much. But a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service warns that 21 states will exhaust their SCHIP funds by next March and be forced to drop millions of children now protected.
Debbie Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, praised the lawmakers who have refused to buckle. “They have stood on the principle that they want 10 million children covered,” she said. “They have not retreated. But if they can’t get past a Bush veto, they may have to approve an extension of the program. But there needs to be additional funding to protect children from being cut off the program.”
Weinstein continued: “Our coalition still has strong hopes the Congress will expand health care protection to 10 million uninsured children. It would be unspeakably shameful to reduce the number of children covered.”
The coalition embraces a wide range of groups and viewpoints, with many members citing the warped priorities of spending for the Iraq war, Weinstein said. “Some of our members look at the squandering of billions of dollars in Iraq. We spend a lot more in a month in Iraq than we spend in a year for SCHIP. Others point to the unbelievable wrongheadedness of tax policies that reward the wealthy while spending for health care, education, Headstart, job training and other human needs are vetoed.”