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Bush challenges Dems over kids' health care bill

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  • NEW: "The president is wrong," says House Speaker Pelosi, on bipartisan bill
  • NEW: Clinton says Bush is "walking away from taking care of our children"
  • Bush vows to veto expansion of State Children Health Insurance Program
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Thursday vowed to veto a reported deal in Congress to expand a children's health-care insurance program, accusing Democrats of wanting to send him the legislation to score "political points in Washington."

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President Bush calls on Congress Thursday to extend the currrent health care plan for poor children.

Speaking to reporters at a White House news conference, Bush said he wanted Congress to instead send him a "clean" extension of the State Children Health Insurance Program, or sCHIP, so he could sign it before the program ends on September 30.

He threatened to veto the expansion because, he said, it would "raise taxes on working people and would raise spending between $35 billion to $50 billion."

The president said he supports reauthorizing the program at $5 billion above its current funding over a five-year period, which Bush said amounts to a 20 percent increase.

"Unfortunately, instead of working with the administration to enact this funding increase for children's health, Democrats in Congress have decided to pass a bill they know will be vetoed. One of their leaders has even said such a veto would be, quote, 'a political victory,'" the president said. Video Watch Bush threaten to veto the Democrats' bill »

Later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi fired her comments directly at Bush. "The president is wrong when he says Democrats want a political victory," said the California Democrat. "What we want is a bipartisan bill. What we want is health care for 10 million children."

A leading senator and presidential hopeful also criticized Bush for his rejection of the bill.

"He is walking away from taking care of our children and I find that just unimaginable," Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, said.

"And I think to start engaging in name-calling and calling it government-run health care, and all of that, is not only wrong but it really ... does a great disservice to people in this Congress who are working in a bipartisan way to try to cover more kids and give them the health care they deserve to have."

Another Senate Democrat took to the floor after Bush spoke. "We're not playing politics," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan.

"We were coming together in a bipartisan way to be able to give more children, American children, the ability to get their health-care needs taken care of. And it's time that we have the president join with us in the right set of priorities for American families," she added.

The House and Senate deal, according to two House aides and a Senate aide, adds $35 billion more to the current $25 billion, for a total cost of about $60 billion over five years.

Democratic congressional aides say their party wants to expand the program to cover an additional 4 million children and pay for it by raising the tax on cigarettes by 61 cents per pack. Bush opposes that, and has threatened to veto the bill.

Critics say the funding that Bush favors won't pay for the 6 million children covered over the next five years.

Two House Democratic aides said the deal is a bipartisan one because Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Charles Grassley of Iowa negotiated and signed off on it.

The aides said they have a veto-proof majority in the Senate and that it will pass in the House with some support from moderate Republicans, but concede they may not have a veto-proof margin.

Democrats emphasize that Bush is reneging on his campaign promise during his 2004 convention speech to cover children's health care.

House Republican leaders earlier this week argued that the bill represents a "huge expansion" of government-run health care.

They say Democrats are adding middle-class families to a program that was designed by Republicans in 1997 to cover the poor.

Bush was joined at the White House news conference by Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.

About 9.3 percent of children under the age of 18 and 43.6 million Americans -- 14.8 percent of the total population -- had no health insurance last year, according to a government study released in June.

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SCHIP is designed to provide coverage to "targeted low-income children," according to the HHS. Those children belong to families whose income is below 200 percent of the federal poverty level or whose family has an income 50 percent higher than the state's Medicaid eligibility threshold, according to the HHS Web site.

Some states -- according to HHS -- have expanded SCHIP eligibility beyond the 200 percent poverty level limit, and others are covering entire families and not just children. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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