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Bush Readies Veto Pen As Senate Passes Children's Health Bill

The stage is set for one of the most significant domestic policy showdowns of the Bush presidency.

The Senate on Thursday night cleared a massive children's health insurance bill by a veto-proof margin,
67-29, but House approval earlier this week of the same bill was not enough for a veto override, leaving President Bush with the upper hand for now.

Eighteen Republicans in the Senate, some of whom have been Bush allies for years, voted for the $35 billion increase in the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The Senate GOP defectors joined 45 House Republicans who voted for the bill.

For Democrats and the growing group of Republicans backing the bill, the expansion of SCHIP is an important  moment in American health care policy because it would cover four million more uninsured children, on top of the 6.6 million already receiving benefits.  The program was actually an innovation of the Republican Congress in 1997, but Democrats have sought to expand SCHIP to cover even more uninsured children whose parents make too much money to qualify for Medicaid.

Despite the bipartisan support, conservatives still have enough votes to prevail in sustaining the veto. President Bush and GOP congressional leaders see the expansion to more middle income families as a step toward government run health insurance for everyone.

Republicans are quick to point out that they support SCHIP, they just balk at the expansion plan Democrats have proposed that would cover families making up to 300 percent of federal poverty level, or about $60,000 for a family of four.

"We are not supposed to be playing politics, particularly with something like this," said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). Republicans created this program, particularly to help low income kids. And so, I really don’t think it’s a good idea for Democrats to play politics."

Even though Republicans have the votes to sustain the veto, the SCHIP debate has buoyed Democrats on the domestic policy front after months of frustrating debate over the war in Iraq.