WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Wednesday again vowed to veto a renewed push to expand a popular children's health care program, saying it would play a "trick" on Americans by moving the country closer to a federalized health system.
President Bush speaks out Wednesday against legislation expanding a children's health care program.
Bush vetoed a previous version of the legislation that congressional Democrats have deemed a top priority.
"Halloween's an appropriate day to talk about it because there's a bill moving through Congress that's disguised as a bill to help children, but I think it's really a trick on the American people," the president told attendees of the Grocery Manufacturers Association/Food Products Association's fall conference.
Bush was referring to the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, the state-run, federally funded program that was set to expire September 30 but was extended at current levels until the passage of new legislation.
The president has criticized Congress, saying lawmakers are wasting time on revisions they know he will veto again.
Last week's 265-142 vote in the House of Representatives was short of the two-thirds margin needed to override another Bush veto. The Senate could consider the revised bill as early as Tuesday.
"If they keep passing this legislation, I will keep vetoing it," Bush vowed, saying the latest version is even more expensive than the first, which he vetoed October 3.
The current program 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.
The new version would expand the program by nearly $35 billion over five years -- the same level as the previous bill, according to Democrats. They 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.
"I'm going to use my veto pen to prevent" Congress from raising taxes, the president promised, saying his proposed budget increases SCHIP funding by 20 percent over five years.
On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, accused the president of breaking a 2004 promise to expand the SCHIP program.
He also called Bush "the biggest obstacle" to extending health coverage to "10 million low-income, working-class American children."
Hoyer said GOP House leaders need to "stop posing for pictures and sit down with Democrats and Republicans in Congress who are working together to extend coverage to our children."
Democratic leaders said the new legislation 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.
Bush said the SCHIP legislation shows that some in Congress believe "expanding federal control is the key to improving health care."
Without mentioning Sen. Hillary Clinton by name, Bush cited the former first lady's efforts in 1994 to overhaul health care, saying that Democrats who supported that legislation apparently have learned from the experience.
"So instead of pushing to federalize health care all at once, they're pushing for the same goal through a series of incremental steps," Bush said. "With each step, they want to bring America closer to a nationalized system where the government dictates the medical care for every citizen." E-mail to a friend
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