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House passes revised child health insurance bill

  • Story Highlights
  • House passes children's child health insurance bill 265-142
  • Vote short of two-thirds margin Democrats would need to override veto
  • Republicans upset about timing of vote, with some members in California
  • One Republican says Democratic leaders are "taking advantage of a disaster"
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House of Representatives passed a new bill expanding a popular children's health insurance program Thursday -- despite Republican complaints about a vote held while several members were visiting wildfire-ravaged California districts.

The 265-142 vote was short of the two-thirds margin needed to override another veto by President Bush, who killed a similar bill earlier this month.

Nevertheless, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats were "very pleased with what happened today."

"Of course, we would have liked to have had the 290 votes," said Pelosi, D-California. "But we knew once the excuses started flying, that would not happen."

The measure would expand the program by nearly $35 billion over five years, the same as the measure Bush vetoed October 3. But Democratic leaders said the new version addresses Republican objections by tightening restrictions on illegal immigrants receiving SCHIP benefits; capping the income levels of families that qualify for the program; and preventing adults from receiving benefits.

"At some point, you have to understand that you can take yes for an answer," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Illinois, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

But Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, compared the changes to "putting lipstick on a pig."

"It may a be a good pig. It may be a nice pig. It might be intended to be the right kind of pig," said Barton, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "But it's still a pig."

The White House said Bush would kill the new bill just as he had the last one.

"This bill does not address in a meaningful way the concerns the president raised, and so he will veto it if it reaches his desk," the White House said in a statement released after the vote.

Bush had proposed adding $5 billion to the program, and said the version he vetoed would have encouraged families to leave the private insurance market for the federally funded, state-run program.

The program currently covers about 6 million children whose parents earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, the federal health insurance program for the poor, but who can't afford private insurance. Democrats want to extend the program to another 4 million, paying for it with a 61-cent-per-pack increase in the federal tax on cigarettes.

The revised bill now goes to the Senate, which passed the earlier version with 67 votes.

Despite Democrats' talk of having new momentum, one Republican who joined them on the override vote -- Rep. Vern Ehlers of Michigan -- voted against the new bill. One of two Democrats who opposed the override, Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi, voted for it.

Ehlers' office said the congressman was unhappy that the bill was revised "without any sort of meaningful negotiation." And other Republicans accused Democrats of pushing another vote on the popular program as a club to use against GOP incumbents in the 2008 elections.

"How long are we going to play these games before we get serious about resolving our differences?" asked House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Republicans also were angered by the Democratic leadership's decision to hold the vote Thursday afternoon, when many California Republicans were joining President Bush during his trip to view the damage left by five days of massive wildfires. Thirteen Republicans signed a letter to Pelosi on Wednesday, urging her as "a fellow Californian" to postpone the vote.

"It just is beyond the cordial nature of the House for us to be considering this," said Rep. Dan Lungren, R-California.

But Pelosi said Congress needs time to pass the expansion before it recesses for the holidays in mid-November -- and to hold another override vote if Bush vetoes it again.

"We are certainly not leaving here without having this issue resolved," she said.

Democrats said the absence of those members wouldn't change the outcome on a bill that numerous Republicans were expected to support. And Taylor said Congress did not shut down while he was in his Gulf Coast district dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"I don't think our California colleagues are really asking to shut down the Congress because they need to be in their district," he said. "Their constituents will understand, just as mine understood." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Roy BluntNancy PelosiSteny HoyerJohn Boehner

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