Huge coalition urges Congress to override SCHIP veto

Children marched to the White House Oct. 2 pulling red wagons filled with petitions demanding that President Bush drop his plan to veto legislation passed by the Senate and House that would extend the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and expand it to cover an additional 4 million children.

“Health care, not warfare!” the children chanted as they marched to the executive mansion in a protest organized by the Service Employees International Union. But deaf to the children’s pleas, Bush vetoed the measure Oct. 3 behind closed doors.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called it a “heartless veto,” adding, “Never has it been clearer how detached President Bush is from the priorities of the American people.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, “We remain committed to making SCHIP into law, with or without the support of the president.”

The Democratic leadership is reportedly postponing a vote to override the veto for as long as two weeks to allow grassroots movements time to exert maximum pressure on Republicans and some Democrats to vote to override.

A grassroots coalition convened a Capitol Hill news conference to denounce the veto. Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, told reporters the coalition is staging 200 rallies in cities and towns across the nation Oct. 4 to demand that Congress override.

“With America on our side,” McEntee said, “we’re battling Bush on the budget, a battle to preserve the role of public services that keep our families safe and our communities strong.” McEntee hammered Bush for his endless Iraq war. “If Bush really wants to support the troops he should bring them home and should not block our attempts to get funding for veterans,” he said. (See related story, page 8.)

AFSCME is helping fund media ads that target Republican representatives, warning them that angry voters will exact vengeance in the 2008 elections if they refuse to vote to override.

The House approved the SCHIP measure Sept. 26 by a vote of 265-159, only 25 votes shy of the 290 needed to override a veto.

Debbie Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, told the World, “Republicans who stand with the president on this issue are walking the plank. We have coalitions on many fronts engaged in this incredibly critical fight to override the veto. While we would have preferred that 290 House members vote for SCHIP, we did get 45 Republicans to vote for it. It proves this legislation enjoys strong bipartisan support.”

The Senate approved their version of the bill with a veto-proof margin, 67-29, last week. Majority Leader Reid commented that the $35 billion cost to cover 10 million children under SCHIP is equal to the cost of “about one month of the war in Iraq. So clearly it isn’t about not having the money.”

Reid said Bush “has crassly calculated that holding children hostage is the only way to raise from the dead his partisan, unpopular, ineffective health care agenda.”

Critics charge that Bush’s plan to spend only $5 billion more for SCHIP is so paltry it will eliminate 1 million children who are now protected by the program. SCHIP, which was scheduled to expire Sept. 30, now protects 6.6 million children. Another 9 million children are still without health care.

An ABC-Washington Post poll shows that 70 percent of the public favors the legislation, including 56 percent of those who identify themselves as Republicans.

Weinstein told the World the ABC-Washington Post poll is especially significant because respondents were asked specifically if they favored the $35 billion expansion of the SCHIP program and 7 in 10 answered “yes.”

In a sign that the public is fed up with Bush’s guns-not-butter budget priorities, 70 percent of the respondents said spending for the Iraq war should be reduced. Bush is asking for $190 billion more to pay for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. The poll showed that 46 percent favor reducing funding for the Iraq war “sharply” or “entirely.”

Eight states filed a joint lawsuit against the Bush administration asking the courts to overturn Bush’s new rules that block their efforts to expand SCHIP coverage to millions more uninsured children. Joining in the suit were the governors of Arizona, California, Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Washington state.

Speaking at a news conference to announce the lawsuit, New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer said, “It sends a compelling message when the U.S. Congress, states across the nation, and the public are so clearly committed to ensuring that families have access to affordable health care for their children.”


TAKE ACTION: Join the fight for kids’ health care

A massive campaign across the nation is demanding that the House of Representatives join the Senate in overriding President Bush’s veto of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). SCHIP was approved in the Senate by a veto-proof margin. But we must convince 25 more Republicans to join 45 who have already broken with Bush and vote to override.

Do your part: Telephone your representative through the Capitol switchboard at (202) 225-3121. Ask him or her to vote to override. Ask him or her to speak out strongly on the issue. Attend one of 235 rallies near you to demand a veto override. Visit the TrueMajority website and sign their online petition at: This is the first shot in the struggle for universal health care.