SCHIP Deal Close But Without Money Dems Wanted

On the heels of President Bush's second veto of a major expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, Democrats have relented and agreed to an 15 month extension of the existing program.

House and Senate aides from both parties confirmed on Monday night that there was a tentative deal to extend the SCHIP program through March of 2009, but without the extra $35 billion Democrats have been pushing. While one House GOP aide said that would be a "gift" to Republicans, Democratic sources said their party leaders could still easily call for another vote on expanding the program close to next year's elections in an effort to force Republicans to vote again against children's health insurance.

Democrats spent much of the early fall hammering Republicans for blocking a bill that would have granted four million more uninsured children health insurance. Democrats won a veto proof margin in the Senate, and lured as many as 45 House Republicans to support the $35 billion expansion.

But Democrats fell just short of a veto override, and as the end of the session approaches, they have agreed to an 15 month extension of the existing program, with extra money added only to cover state budget shortfalls, according to House and Senate aides. If the deal holds, the Senate would vote first on the program's extension, followed by the House.

Even with this long-term extension, Democrats aren't letting go of SCHIP as a political issue. They are planning a Jan. 23 veto override vote _ just days before President Bush gives his final State of the Union address.