The SCHIP Hits the Fan

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, September 25, 2007; 1:00 PM

President Bush may be courting the ultimate presidential indignity -- a Congressional override -- with his threatened veto of a bill to expand poor children's health care access, which many members of his own party enthusiastically support.

Bush is still able to bully Congressional Democrats when it comes to the war and national security. But, in the realm of domestic politics, he's the archetypal lame duck. About the only power he has left is the veto -- and then, only if he can maintain enough Republican backing to sustain it.

Yet, astonishingly enough, Bush not only remains dead-set on vetoing the popular child health-care initiative, he's once again pushing a dead-on-arrival proposal to give tax breaks to people who buy private insurance. Even some leading Republicans are agog.

Jonathan Weisman and Christopher Lee write in The Washington Post: "A senior Senate Republican accused President Bush yesterday of holding a bipartisan expansion of the popular State Children's Health Insurance Program hostage to his broader policy goals of using tax deductions to help people afford private health insurance coverage.

"With a five-year, $35 billion expansion of the children's health insurance program due for a final vote in the House today, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and White House aides agreed that Bush's opposition to the legislation stems not from its price tag but from far larger health policy issues. The White House wants to use the issue of uninsured children to resurrect the president's long-dormant proposals to change the federal tax code to help the uninsured, adults and children alike, Grassley said, calling that a laudable goal but unrealistic politically.

"'The president has a goal that I share, that we need to take care of the uninsured through private health insurance,' said Grassley, relating a sharp conversation he had with Bush on Thursday morning. 'But you can't put that on this bill.'

"'It's bad policy,' White House spokesman Tony Fratto said of the children's health bill. 'Why should we go along with bad policy if we've got something better?'"

The bill appears to have a veto-proof majority in the Senate, but not necessarily in the House.

Weisman and Lee explain: "Perhaps two dozen or more House Republicans are likely to vote for the bill today, GOP leadership aides said, far more than the five who voted for a more ambitious House version on Aug. 1, which included cuts in subsidies for private Medicare plans. But that would still be well short of the 60 or so that would be needed to override Bush's threatened veto."

How alone are Bush and his backers on this issue? Weisman and Lee note that even "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."

Robert Pear and Carl Hulse write in the New York Times: "Supporters of the legislation, which has broad bipartisan support, mobilized lobbyists -- 400 from the American Cancer Society alone -- and began advertising to win the votes needed to override a veto threatened by Mr. Bush. . . .

"Administration officials said they were concerned that the White House was being hurt by televised news reports that portrayed the fight as a struggle between Mr. Bush and poor children, rather than as a philosophical debate over the role of government in health care."

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