President Bush vetoed legislation Wednesday that would have expanded government-provided health insurance for children, his second slap-down of a bipartisan effort in Congress to dramatically increase funding for the popular program.
It was Bush's seventh veto in seven years — all but one coming since Democrats took control of Congress in January. Wednesday was the deadline for Bush to act or let the bill become law. The president also vetoed an earlier, similar bill expanding the health insurance program.
Bush vetoed the bill in private.
In a statement notifying Congress of his decision, Bush said the bill was unacceptable because — like the first one — it allows adults into the program, would cover people in families with incomes above the U.S. median and raises taxes.
"This bill does not put poor children first, and it moves our country's health care system in the wrong direction," Bush's statement said. "Ultimately, our nation's goal should be to move children who have no health insurance to private coverage, not to move children who already have private health insurance to government coverage."
Bush urged Congress to extend the program at its current funding level before lawmakers leave Washington for their holiday break.
In fact, congressional leaders had already said earlier Wednesday that they now will try only to extend the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, well into 2008 in basically its current form. Their comments signaled that they have given up efforts to substantially expand the program.
The bill passed the Democratic-controlled Senate by a veto-proof margin, but the same was not true in the House. Even after the bill was approved, negotiations continued to find a compromise version that would attract enough Republican lawmakers to override Bush's expected veto. A two-thirds vote in both chambers is required to override a presidential veto.
But that effort was unsuccessful.
The bill Bush vetoed would have increased federal funding for SCHIP by $35 billion over five years, to add an estimated 4 million people to the program that provides insurance coverage for children from families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private insurance. The joint federal-state program currently provides benefits to roughly 6 million people, mostly children.
A major point of contention with the White House was Bush's demand that nearly all poor children eligible for the program be found and enrolled before any in slightly higher-income families could be covered. He originally proposed adding $5 billion to the program over five years but later said he was willing to go higher as long as his conditions were met.
The president also has opposed using an increased tobacco tax to fund the program expansion. The bill includes a 61-cent rise on a package of cigarettes.