Children’s advocates stood vigil outside Republican lawmakers’ district offices across the nation Oct. 4 to demand that they override President Bush’s veto of a $35 billion increase in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

The bill would fully fund the 6.6 million children now served by SCHIP and protect an additional 4 million youngsters who are not protected by health insurance.

An estimated 9 million children in the U.S. have no medical insurance. SCHIP expired Sept. 30 and Bush’s veto of the bill to extend the popular program put the entire program in jeopardy. Bush had proposed a pitiful $5 billion for SCHIP, meaning that at least a million children now served would have to be dropped.

Anna Burger, secretary treasurer of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), told reporters, “It is time for all of us to decide whether we are going to stand up for what’s right or stand by while sick children are abandoned. Congress must fix what President Bush has broken and override this indefensible veto. If they do not, they will answer to the American people.”

The override vote is currently scheduled for Oct. 18.

Jeremy Funk, a spokesman for Americans United for Change, told the World the vigils were part of “the most massive grassroots mobilization” by organized labor and its allies on a domestic issue since the upsurge that blocked Bush’s plans to privatize Social Security.

More than 200 rallies, vigils and picket lines protested the veto and demanded that lawmakers vote to override it, he said. In addition to Americans United for Change, spearheading the movement were the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, SEIU,, USAction, TrueMajority, Children’s Defense Fund and many faith-based and peace groups.

In Florida, scores of parents and their children rallied outside the Miami offices of Republican Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to demand that they break with Bush. Former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, a Democrat expected to run against Diaz-Balart next year, blasted Bush’s veto on Spanish-language radio in Miami.

In Minnesota, several dozen gathered in front of Rep. Michele Bachmann’s office in Waite Park, just outside Minneapolis, to protest the freshman Republican’s support of Bush’s veto. The Rev. Donald D. Schultz told the crowd, “Rep. Bachmann’s vote against the SCHIP bill sends a pretty sorry message to Minnesota families. Do the right thing, Congresswoman. Change course and vote to override the president’s veto. If you don’t, none of those families is likely soon to forget it.”

Tim Lifzewski, an organizer for the New Hampshire Citizen’s Alliance, told the World, “We had dozens turn out at each of our vigils in Keene, Concord, Portsmouth, Nashua and Manchester.” He said, “We vigiled even though New Hampshire’s two representatives both voted for the SCHIP bill. They are Democrats elected in 2006. We wanted to say, ‘Thank you for voting for SCHIP’ and ask them to show some leadership in encouraging those who didn’t vote for SCHIP to change their minds.”

New Hampshire’s Sen. John Sununu was one of several GOP senators who broke with Bush and voted for SCHIP, Lifzewski added. “The only member of the New Hampshire delegation to support Bush is Republican Sen. Judd Gregg. That’s why we vigiled outside his office in Concord to ask him to reverse his position.”

SCHIP was approved in the Senate by a 67-29 vote, enough to override Bush’s veto. But the House approved the bill 265-159, about 25 votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override. Thus the coalition is targeting 43 Republicans, demanding they join 45 Republicans who already broke with Bush to vote for SCHIP. An AFSCME spokesperson said pro-SCHIP television and radio ads are running in the 43 GOP districts.

Brad Woodhouse, president of Americans United for Change, said, “Even as President Bush was vetoing a modest $35 billion expansion of the children’s health care insurance program, he asked Congress for nearly $200 billion in additional funds for Iraq.” He pointed out, “For the amount spent on just one week in Iraq, 800,000 children would get health insurance for an entire year.”

SCHIP supporters have urged people to call their representative via the Capitol switchboard, (202) 225-3121, and ask him or her to vote to override.