Bush Urges Governors to Back Tax Reforms

The Associated Press
Monday, February 26, 2007; 10:48 PM

WASHINGTON -- President Bush encouraged governors Monday to support his call for changing the tax code to help more people buy private health care insurance, but did not address their pleas to increase funding for a health care program that insures millions of children of the working poor.

Still, governors said they heard words of at least partial compromise from the administration on a budget dispute that dominated private discussions among governors Sunday.

At stake is coverage for 6 million people, overwhelmingly children, as well as the hopes of many governors in tackling the larger challenge of the uninsured. All governors rely on the State Children's Health Insurance Program, intended to aid uninsured working families.

Bush, welcoming the governors after they met privately with several administration officials, did not offer any comments about the children's health program, talking rather about his larger proposals.

"I'm looking forward to working with Congress on health care. I firmly believe ... that states are often times the best place to reform systems and work on programs that meet needs," he said.

But Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt "made it clear that the administration will work with Congress as far as" short-term shortfalls, said North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, a Republican. Governors say 14 states could run out of cash before October. In Georgia, it could happen as soon as March.

The governors want two things:

_Enough money to keep the program afloat through October. That is estimated at $745 million.

_Changes to Bush's budget. Analysts say his spending plan would shortchange the health program even if the number of people served did not grow. The long-term shortfall is put at $10 billion to $15 billion over the next five years.

Gov. Jon Corzine, a New Jersey Democrat, warned that the administration's budget promised illusory savings. "You end up paying for this in other ways _ uncompensated care, emergency rooms," Corzine said. "This is pay me now or pay me later."

Corzine said he still wanted more clarity from administration officials on support for the short-term funding, but said Leavitt had offered words of compromise.

But the long-term issues over the program remained in dispute, governors said.

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