Democrats Launch Campaign to Override SCHIP Veto

After President Bush vetoed a highly contentious children's health insurance bill last week, Democrats are now pushing to find the votes to overturn the president's decision.

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President Bush appears to have enough support to win his fight over children's health insurance but that will not stop Democrats from trying to overturn his veto.

Last week, the President rejected an expansion of children's health insurance. Congress would need a two-thirds majority to override the veto. Lawmakers are short of doing that in the house. Now, Democrats and advocacy groups are targeting 15 Republicans considered political vulnerable.

NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOT: Already feeling the pressure is Ohio Republican, Steve Chabot, a staunched conservative from Cincinnati, who faced a tough reelection challenge last year and is expected to be in another tight-race in 2008. He stands by his decision to vote against the $35 billion expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

Representative STEVE CHABOT (Republican, Ohio): The Liberals and the Washington special interest groups have been targeting me for 13 years now. And I believe in less government and I believe in lower taxes. And this particular bill is inconsistent with that.

ELLIOT: Chabot says he supports reauthorizing the health insurance program for low-income children but not at that price. He hopes Congress will find common ground to do that after the veto fight is over. But in the mean time, Democrats will make sure his constituents back home in Cincinnati keep hearing about his vote against the program.

(Soundbite of radio program)

Mr. BRIAN PITTS (Reporter, EAGLE 993): Things are not too bad this afternoon. We do have an accident out on 48 at industrial…

ELLIOT: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is sponsoring traffic and weather reports on local radio with this message.

(Soundbite of radio program)

Mr. Pitts: Did you know Congressman Chabot gets healthcare at taxpayer's expense, but Chabot and Bush are blocking healthcare for 10 million children? Tell Steve Chabot to put families first. I'm Brian Pitts with traffic on Eagle 993.

ELLIOT: At the same time, a coalition of advocacy groups including labor unions is launching its own national ad campaign and grassroots mobilization in targeted congressional districts. Chabot's is one of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What do we want?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Healthcare.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: When do we want it?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Now.

ELLIOT: About 20 protestors from MoveOn.org gathered in downtown Cincinnati last week to kick-off the campaign against Steve Chabot and his Republican colleague, Jean Schmidt. Local MoveOn coordinator, Dick Manuki(ph) led the rally.

Mr. DICK MANUKI (Coordinator, MoveOn.org, Ohio): And if we can get Chabot and Schmidt and others and there's going to be a multi-million-dollar campaign in districts where there were vulnerable candidates. So we have a week to work on getting people who are on the margin, who are facing reelection, to vote for overriding. So, that's our best hope right now. And then, they can get…

ELLIOT: Congressman Chabot says his office has already started fielding phone calls. On both sides of the issue, he says, he's not swayed by all the attention.

Rep. CHABOT: I think you should stand on principle. You should tell people why you voted the way you did. And then, not just cave because of bunch of special interest group are running ads against you.

Mr. GENE BEAUPRE (Political Scientist, Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio): Steve has a reputation as being really a loyal Republican soldier in a fight if you will. And I think this is another example of that.

ELLIOT: Gene Beaupre is a political scientist at Xavier University in Cincinnati. He's skeptical that a vote to sustain the President's veto this month will still haunt Chabot come next year's election.

Mr. BEAUPRE: I don't know what form this issue will finally end up in. I mean, maybe some compromise is reached prior to the next election. And then, I think the issue deflates. I think it's just isn't an issue anymore.

ELLIOT: That's what Republicans in Congress are counting on. Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri disputes that the targeted members are politically vulnerable.

Representative ROY BLUNT (Republican, Missouri; Minority Whip): You know, if this was October of next year, I must tell you from a strategic point of view, I'd be much more concern about the character of this debate than I am on October of this year. The people on the side of trying to have a better bill will, at the end of the day, be proven right, and in fact, will vote for the bill that the President will sign before this is over.

ELLIOT: House Democrats have postponed a vote on the override until October 18th, buying time to try to chip away at about 15 lawmakers who would have to change their vote. Blunt says they won't get there.

Debbie Elliot, NPR News, The Capital.

INSKEEP: Trying to chip away, she says. The program is called SCHIP.

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