WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush on Wednesday vetoed a bill expanding a popular children’s health care program for the second time, angering Democrats who are locked in a fight with the administration over the budget and spending.
Pushed by the Democratic-led Congress but also supported by many Republicans, the bill was aimed at providing health insurance to about 10 million children in low- and moderate-income families. Taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products would have been increased to pay for the aid.
Bush vetoed a version of the bill in October but Congress quickly passed another one that included some changes but not enough to satisfy the White House.
“Because the Congress has chosen to send me an essentially identical bill that has the same problems as the flawed bill I previously vetoed, I must veto this legislation too,” Bush wrote in a message to the House of Representatives.
The fight between Congress and the White House over the health bill is one in a series of clashes over spending that have arisen as Bush approaches the start of his final year in office.
Bush has said the funding level sought by the Democrats for the health program would have expanded it beyond its original intent of covering poor children and marked a step toward government-run health care.
Democrats say the additional money is needed to help families who cannot afford to buy private health insurance but who earn too much to qualify for the Medicaid health care program for the poor.
“This is indeed a sad action for him to take, because so many children in our country need access to quality health care,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, told reporters.
In vetoing the legislation, Bush said “this bill does not put poor children first and it moves our country’s health care system in the wrong direction.”
The bill would have provided $60 billion in funding for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) over five years, compared with the current $25 billion five-year funding level.
Proponents argued that the $5 billion increase that Bush proposed in his budget was not enough to continue coverage for the more than 6 million children now enrolled in the program.
Democratic leaders said they plan a temporary funding bill to ensure that those children keep their coverage through the fiscal year that ends September 30.
In the meantime, Pelosi said Democrats would keep pushing for a broader bill that would cover at least 10 million children.
“I continue to stand ready to work with the leaders of the Congress, on a bipartisan basis, to reauthorize the SCHIP program,” Bush wrote in his message to the House.
Additional reporting by Donna Smith, Richard Cowan and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Xavier Briand