Thursday, August 09, 2007

Bush may veto bill to expand child insurance

The Guardian
Bush may veto bill to expand child insurance

THE White House said last weekend that President Bush would veto a bipartisan plan to expand the children's health insurance programme drafted over the last six months by senior members of the Senate Finance Committee.

The vow puts Bush at odds with the Democratic majority in Congress, with a substantial number of Republican lawmakers and with many governors of both parties, who want to expand the popular programme to cover some of the nation's eight million un-insured children.

Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman said: "The president's senior advisers will certainly recommend a veto of this proposal. And there is no question that the President would veto it."

The programme, which insured 7.4 million people at some time in the last year, is set to expire September 30.

The finance committee is expected to approve the Senate plan next week, sending it to the full Senate for action later this month. Senator Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat, who is chairman of the committee, said he would move ahead despite the veto threat. "The Senate will not be deterred from helping more kids in need," Baucus said. "The president should stop playing politics and start working with Congress to help kids, through renewal of this programme."

The proposal would increase current levels of spending by $35 billion over the next five years, bringing the total to $60 billion. The Congressional Budget Office says the plan would reduce the number of uninsured children by 4.1 million.

The new spending would be financed by an increase in the federal excise tax on tobacco products. The tax on cigarettes would rise to $1 a pack, from the current 39 cents.

Fratto, the White House spokesman, said, "Tax increases are neither necessary nor advisable to fund the programme appropriately."

Democrats in the House would go much further than the bipartisan Senate plan. They would add $50 billion to the programme over five years, bringing the total to $75 billion. By contrast, in his latest budget request, Bush proposed an increase of $5 billion over five years, which would bring the total to $30 billion.

White House officials said the president had several other reasons to veto the bipartisan Senate plan.

"The proposal would dramatically expand the children's health insurance programme, adding non-poor children to the programme, and more than doubling the level of spending," Fratto said. "This will have the effect of encouraging many to drop private coverage, to go on the government - subsidised programme."

In addition, Fratto said, the Senate plan does not include any of Bush's proposals to change the tax treatment of health insurance, in an effort to make it more affordable for millions of Americans.

Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the finance committee, said he would like to consider such tax proposal. But, he said, "it's not realistic - given the lack of bipartisan support for the president's plan - to think that can be accomplished before the current children's health care programme runs out in September."