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House fails to override Bush veto of child insurance bill

  • Story Highlights
  • Bush "pleased" by defeat of "misguided" bill, says White House
  • Supporters fail by 13 votes to muster two-thirds majority to override bill
  • Supporters wanted $30 billion more than Bush for five years of SCHIP
  • SCHIP targets kids in gap between Medicaid, private insurance
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- House Democrats on Thursday failed to override President Bush's veto of a children's health insurance bill that opponents said was too expensive.

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Musician Paul Simon, left, joins House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to oppose Bush's veto of the SCHIP bill.

By a vote of 273 to 156, the measure fell 13 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for an override. Forty-four Republicans voted for the override.

"Now is the time for Congress to stop playing politics and to join the president in finding common ground," said a White House statement after the vote. Bush was "pleased," the statement said, that the "misguided legislation" was defeated.

Democrats, sensing earlier that they didn't have the votes, vowed to continue the fight, despite a defeat.

The issue has ignited an intense two-week struggle on Capitol Hill after Bush vetoed the proposed five-year expansion and $35 billion spending increase. Bush proposes increasing the program by $5 billion.

Before the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke of a middle-class family caring for a child with a birth defect, asking lawmakers: "So when the president wants to have 4 or $5 billion for children in this initiative, is he the one, the decider, who wants to go to that family and say, 'Your child is out'?"

"We're lobbying for all of the children," said the California Democrat. Video Watch Democrats pull out all the stops »

Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner explained his and other opponents' stance on the bill.

"What we've been working towards is trying to find a way to say that we ought to insure poor children first," said the Ohio Republican. "Let's not let this become another Washington program that starts with one principle of mind and then becomes something for everyone."

It was the fourth veto of Bush's term. See veto record »

On its first go-round, the House passed it with 45 Republican votes -- about two dozen votes short of the two-thirds majority.

Earlier, Pelosi said Bush "is alone," in his stance on the bill, "and he's dragging some of his House members with him down this path."

Bush said Wednesday that the congressional plan would "encourage people to move from private medicine to the public."

Another member of the Democratic House leadership, Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, vowed Thursday that they would not let up. "There will be no compromise on 10 million children's health care," Emanuel told CNN. "We won't go above it, but we ain't going below it.

"The American people support this issue because kids do not need to suffer for what is basically a broken health care system, and this provides those children with that health care," Emanuel said.

The SCHIP program covers about 6 million children whose parents earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, the federally funded program providing health care for the poor, but can't afford private health insurance.

The bill the House and Senate passed in September would extend eligibility for the program to about 4 million more, paying for the expansion with a 61-cent-per-pack increase in the federal tax on cigarettes.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released Wednesday found strong support for Democrats' efforts to override the veto. The poll found 61 percent of Americans believe Congress should overrule Bush, while 35 percent believe the veto should be sustained.

Pollsters interviewed 1,212 people from Friday through Sunday. The survey has a sampling error of 3 percentage points.

Bush stood firm during a Wednesday news conference. "I made clear that, if putting poor children first requires more than the 20 percent increase in funding I proposed, we'll work with Congress to find the money we need," said the president. "I'm confident we can work out our differences and reauthorize SCHIP."

Bush complained that administration officials "weren't dialed in" to the plans, "and I don't know why. But they just ran the bill, and I made it clear we weren't going to accept it."

The bill passed the Senate with the support of prominent Republicans such as Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Charles Grassley of Iowa.

House Republican leaders have complained that Democrats postponed the override attempt for two weeks to use the issue for political advantage.

A coalition of labor and advocacy groups had been pounding Republicans with a nearly $1 million television ad campaign on cable networks featuring children who have received benefits from the program.

The House Democratic campaign committee has paid for radio ads and automated calls to voters in GOP-held districts it considers competitive in 2008.

Democrats say they would need to peel off about 14 Republicans in the House to be able to enact the bill over Bush's veto. Republican staffers tell CNN that Rep. Bobby Jindal, who is running for governor of Louisiana, is expected to join Democrats in supporting the override. Jindal did not vote on the original bill.

Meanwhile, of the eight Democrats who voted against the bill in September, only one has said he will reverse his vote and support an override.

Rep. Mike McIntyre, who described his North Carolina district as "Tobacco Road," told CNN on Monday that the debate "is no longer about the tobacco tax, but really about whether we're going to help our children."

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Democratic Rep. Diane Watson of California, who declined to vote on the original bill, has agreed to vote for the override, House Democratic Whip Rep. Jim Clyburn said.

Niki Tsongas, the widow of former Sen. Paul Tsongas who won a special election Tuesday to replace Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Marty Meehan, will be sworn in Thursday morning in time for the vote. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Deirdre Walsh and Jessica Yellin contributed to this report.

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