House passes revised children's health bill; Bush vows veto
GOP alleges vote timed to dovetail with attack ads
WASHINGTON - In a deepening conflict with the White House, Democrats pushed a revised children's health bill through the House yesterday but lacked the votes to overcome a threatened second-straight veto by President Bush.
The vote was 265 to 142 on a bill so politically charged that one Republican bluntly accused Democrats of timing the events to dovetail with attack ads planned by organizations supporting the legislation.
"They won't take yes for an answer," retorted Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, as Democrats vehemently denied the allegation. He said the legislation included changes demanded by GOP critics of the vetoed bill, including one to prevent illegal immigrants from gaining benefits.
The measure now goes to the Senate.
Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland and the majority leader, told reporters that additional changes are possible before the measure heads to the White House. At the same time, he added, "I don't want to be strung along" by Republicans merely feigning an interest in bipartisan compromise.
The legislation is designed chiefly to provide coverage for children whose families make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to purchase private insurance.
In general, supporters said it would extend coverage to children of families making up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $62,000 for a family of four.
At that level, congressional officials said, it would cover about 4 million children who now go without insurance, raising the total number of children the program serves to 10 million. The $35 billion cost over five years would be covered by an increase in the tobacco tax of 61 cents a pack.
The vote on the revised bill unfolded one week after the House failed to override Bush's veto and indicated that the changes Democrats had made did not attract much, if any, additional support.
The 265 votes cast for the measure was seven shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.
"This bill is not going to become law," said Representative John Boehner of Ohio, the Republican leader. "If you're tired of the political games, if you're tired of Congress's approval rating being at these ridiculous levels, let's all just vote no."
Democrats were having none of that.
"God willing, President Bush will sign this bill," Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, told reporters at a news conference - less than an hour before the White House issued a statement saying he would not.
The bill "continues to move children from private health insurance to government programs; provides insufficient safeguards to assure that funds will not be spent on ineligible individuals; and, remarkably, actually costs more than the earlier bill, not withstanding supposed improvements in policy," the statement said.
Some Republican supporters of the measure bristled at the Democratic decision to hold the vote less than 24 hours after unveiling the revised measure, and with several lawmakers away because of deadly wildfires in California.
Representative Thelma Drake, Republican of Virginia, was more direct. She said she had told Hoyer in a closed-door meeting that it appeared Democrats would not postpone the vote "because the ads had already been bought."