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President threatens to veto revised child healthcare bill

Times Staff Writer

The House on Thursday approved a revised children’s health insurance bill that Democrats said addressed Republican concerns, but President Bush again threatened to veto it.

The 265-142 tally fell short of the two-thirds needed to override a veto, but it raised the stakes in the political confrontation over children’s healthcare.

Both sides have moved in the direction of a compromise since the House failed last week to override Bush’s veto of the original bill. Yet there have been no direct negotiations between the administration and the legislation’s congressional supporters. Each side blames the other for the impasse. Most Democrats and dozens of Republicans, including many senior GOP senators, back the bill.

“If you feel as though we’ve been here before, it’s because we have,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), an opponent.

At issue is the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which now provides coverage to 6 million children nationally whose parents earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford private insurance. The state-federal partnership, which in California is known as Healthy Families, must be renewed this year.

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Congress approved a five-year, $60-billion bill that would have covered an additional 4 million children and given states the option of helping uninsured children in some middle-class families.

Bush originally insisted on a $30-billion program that analysts said would not have been enough to cover the current caseload. The administration wanted to limit eligibility to children in families making about $41,000 for a family of four, or about twice the federal poverty level.

Administration officials now say the president is willing to spend about $45 billion on the program and -- under certain conditions -- allow coverage of uninsured children in families making about $62,000 for a family of four, or three times the national poverty level.

House Democrats said they have also made significant concessions. Their revised bill includes citizenship verification requirements and would bar states from using federal funds to cover children in families making more than three times the national poverty level.

“We think we tried to respond -- and we did respond, we believe -- to the concerns you raised,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told Republicans during the debate.

But Democrats say they will not yield on the goal of covering 10 million children. And administration officials say that Bush is adamantly opposed to the hike in tobacco taxes that Congress wants to use to pay for such an expansion.

With Senate approval, the bill could land on Bush’s desk as early as next week. Should he veto it, an override vote would likely occur close to the Nov. 16 deadline when temporary funding for the program expires.

Democrats say they see some opportunities to get Republicans to switch on an override vote. Thirty-eight House Republicans signed a letter last week indicating that they would like to see the stalemate resolved.

Ten members of the California delegation -- all from areas affected by the wildfires -- did not vote Thursday: Republicans Brian P. Bilbray of Carlsbad, Ken Calvert of Corona, David Dreier of San Dimas, Elton Gallegly of Simi Valley, Duncan Hunter of Alpine, Darrell Issa of Vista, Jerry Lewis of Redlands and Gary G. Miller of Diamond Bar; and Democrats Susan A. Davis of San Diego and Bob Filner of Chula Vista. Rep. Mary Bono (R-Palm Springs) joined the rest of the Democrats in voting for the bill; the remaining Republicans were opposed.

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ricardo.alonso-zaldivar @latimes.com


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