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Veto May Spur House Struggle over CHIP Bill

The fight over intensifying a health program for low-income children promises to drag on for months after President Bush issued a veto that effectively blocks a plan approved by Congress.

House Democrats do not appear to have the votes to override Mr. Bush's veto of a bill that would increase funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program by $35 billion over five years. The legislation would raise the federal tobacco tax to pay for the plan.

Democrats said they plan to force House Republicans to support the bill and expect to vote on overriding the president's veto in mid-October. For some Republicans, it is a dicey political move to vote not in favor of a popular spending program and side with an unpopular president.

Republicans said the House must act more quickly and accused Democrats of drawing out the debate for political reasons. House Democrats are roughly 15 votes away from the 288 that would be needed to override Mr. Bush's veto if all lawmakers are present. Republican House leaders said they are confident they will sustain a veto.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Mr. Bush's veto "heartless." Rep. Pete Stark (D., Calif.), the chairperson of the House subcommittee that oversees health programs, said Mr. Bush "is a war president, and all he is concerned about is war and more war."

Mr. Bush has said he fears much of the new money in the program would go to middle-class families, rather than those who are struggling to get by and want help paying for health insurance. Seeking to recover the confidence of conservatives apprehensive about government spending, Mr. Bush has drawn his line for CHIP eligibility at 200% of the poverty level, or about $40,000 a year for a family of four.

Mr. Bush struck an appeasing tone in a speech to the Chamber of Commerce in Lancaster, Pa. He said, "I'm more than willing to work with members of both parties from both houses." And if they need a little more money in the bill to help us meet the objective of getting help for poor children, I'm more than willing to sit down with the leaders and find a way to do so."



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