Mean. Vicious. Those words describe the 154 Republicans and two Democrats in the House who voted Oct. 18 to sustain George W. Bush’s veto of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

The vote was 273-156, just 13 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to override. Forty-four House Republicans broke with Bush to override. The Senate had approved, by a veto-proof margin, a $35 billion expansion of the program renewing coverage for 6.6 million children and extending coverage to an additional 4 million youngsters.

Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, put the issue squarely: “Ten million American children will not get the care they need because of a small group of callous Republicans led by President Bush. They can find billions of dollars to spend on a never-ending war in Iraq, but won’t fund doctor’s visits for children. This vote is morally outrageous.”

The Republican right spread crude lies about SCHIP. It was “socialized medicine” or a covert scheme to open the door for national health care. Bush said the bill would encourage middle-income families not to buy private insurance.

True, the SCHIP extension bill would have covered uninsured children in families with annual incomes three times the poverty rate, $61,950 for a family of four. Sen. John Kerry pointed out that buying private health care for that family would cost about $15,000 a year. Providing SCHIP coverage for these millions of youngsters is wholly justified.

Assuring good health care for children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to buy private insurance is not only the right thing to do, but an urgently needed investment in our country’s future.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vows to reintroduce SCHIP. She says her bottom line is that any SCHIP bill must extend protection to a total of 10 million children. We say keep this fight going! No retreat!

And let’s prepare a list of every lawmaker who voted to sustain Bush’s shameful veto. Voters should oust them on Election Day, Nov. 4, 2008.