Lawmakers Near Deal on Kids Health Bill

The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 7, 2007; 4:52 PM

WASHINGTON -- Congressional negotiators said Tuesday they were nearing agreement on a revised children's health bill that they believed would withstand President Bush's veto.

Their goal is a measure that will attract about two dozen more House Republicans to a bid to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program by $35 billion.

That would provide a veto-proof margin on the hard-fought issue that has dominated Congress' domestic agenda in recent weeks. Bush's veto of a similar bill was narrowly upheld by the House.

"We are close," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters as the negotiators took an early evening break from the their closed-door talks. He warned, however, that an accord might be difficult because the Republican participants did not include party leaders, and overriding a Bush veto is "a tough vote" for GOP lawmakers.

Negotiators said they were trying to agree on how to pressure states into enrolling at least 90 percent of eligible low-income children before allowing middle-class families to participate in the program. Bush and his GOP allies have said middle-income families will displace more deserving poor families if strong incentives to sign up low-income families first are not required.

The program is aimed at families that do not qualify for Medicaid, but cannot afford health insurance.

Bush has said he will veto any version of the health insurance bill if it is funded by a tobacco tax increase, which is virtually certain under any revised plan. House and Senate Republican leaders have tried to keep enough colleagues in line to prevent a veto override.

But Tuesday's negotiations were being led by a half-dozen rank-and-file House Republicans who want to resolve the contentious issue, even if it means joining their 43 party colleagues who voted earlier to override the president. Republican negotiators included Reps. Judy Biggert, Ill., Michael Burgess, Tex., Nathan Deal, Ga., Jeff Fortenberry, Neb., and Rodney Frelinghuysen, N.J.

© 2007 The Associated Press