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White House renews veto threat on kids' health insurance bill

  • Story Highlights
  • Spokeswoman affirms president's intent to veto child health insurance bill
  • Legislation would double State Children's Health Insurance Program
  • Bill would add $35 billion to program over five years
  • Margin in Senate is enough for override; House lacks two-thirds majority needed
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush certainly will veto legislation expanding a children's health insurance program by $35 billion over five years despite Democratic pressure lobbying him to change his mind, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino reiterated Tuesday.

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Kids pull wagons full of petitions Monday asking President Bush not to veto insurance legislation.

Even though Democrats are expected to send the legislation officially to the White House Tuesday afternoon, Perino said Bush will not veto the bill then.

Perino said the veto likely won't come until Wednesday. The president will be traveling to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to discuss the federal budget and taxes.

The Senate voted 67-29 Thursday night to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, a measure Bush has vowed before to veto, saying it's a step toward universal coverage.

The program would double -- from 4 million to 8 million -- the number of children covered.

Eighteen Republicans joined all of the Democrats in voting to expand the program from its current annual budget of $5 billion to $12 billion for the next five years.

Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah was among those Republicans who split from the president. "It's very difficult for me to be against a man I care so much for," he told his colleagues on the Senate floor before the vote. "It's unfortunate that the president has chosen to be on what, to me, is clearly the wrong side of this issue."

Though 67 votes in the 100-person chamber would suffice to overturn a veto, the House version, which was approved September 25, fell short of the two-thirds majority needed.

Bush and many Republicans contend the program's original intent would be changed under the current bill. The program gives coverage to parents who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to buy private insurance for their children. They have said their concern is that parents might be prompted to drop private coverage for their children to get cheaper coverage under the bill.

Though Bush has been clear about his veto plans, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, held out hope the president would have a change of heart.

"It is my fervent hope that the president will put away his veto pen so that he can get on with the business of adequately funding programs that contribute, yes, contribute, to a safe and prosperous United States of America," Byrd said last week.

Such a veto would be the fourth of Bush's presidency. After not using his veto power at all during his first term, the president has vetoed three bills in his second one, including two on stem-cell research legislation and one on a war funding bill with a Democratic timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

Though children in a family of four making 250 percent of the poverty level -- or up to $52,000 per year -- would be eligible under the bill, that kind of salary "doesn't go very far in New York," Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, said last week.

"If the president vetoes this bill, he will be vetoing health care for almost 4 million children, and he will be putting ideology -- not children -- first," she added.

But Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, wasn't buying that argument.

"This is a perfect example of the type of partisan politics that goes on in Washington all the time," he told CNN. "It's not about trying to take care of the children; it's about how can we get a political advantage."

Lott added, "Do you really believe Republicans don't want to help poor, low-income children?" E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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