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GOP Senator Says Bush Should Put Health Bill Before Policy Goal

"It is a bigger issue. There's no question it is," Fratto said. "It's not a question of fiscal prudence. It's a question of appropriate policy."

The White House has argued that more people would benefit by creating new tax deductions to help families, including the uninsured, purchase private insurance coverage -- an idea that is decidedly unpopular among Democrats who control Congress.

Bush has said the compromise bill would expand SCHIP to middle-class families, prompting some parents to drop private insurance for their kids and dangerously extending the federal government's influence over the health-care system.

But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), said yesterday the legislation "does just what the president says it should."

"It focuses on the lowest income kids," he said. "It keeps the children's health insurance program for children, not adults, and it does not raise the eligibility to higher income levels."

With a veto almost inevitable, both sides are gearing up for the next step. Congress is likely to pass a short-term extension of the existing SCHIP program before it expires Sept. 30, then begin a second legislative effort. Grassley said if he were the Democrats, he would send the SCHIP expansion to a vote every three months, along with campaign advertisements accusing Republicans of abandoning children. That way, pressure would mount either on Bush to sign the bill or on House Republicans to override the veto.

Americans United for Change, a group closely allied with the Democratic leadership, will begin airing television ads this week in Kentucky, accusing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) of abandoning his state's children.

The White House is looking increasingly isolated on the issue. America's Health Insurance Plans, the largest insurance lobbying group, endorsed the measure yesterday, undercutting Bush's contention that the bill is a step away from private insurance and toward government-run health care.

"It repairs the safety net and is a major movement toward addressing the problems that states and governors have been trying to address, which is how to get access for children," said Karen Ignagni, the group's president.

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