RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Lawmakers in the House last night passed a compromise bill to extend and expand the popular State Children's Health Insurance Program. As expected, the margin of victory wasn't enough to override a promised veto by President Bush.
NPR's Julie Rovner reports on how the standoff might play out with just five days to go before the program is set to expire.
JULIE ROVNER: President Bush threatening to veto a bill to add $35 billion to a program that provides health insurance to low-income children gave Democrats an almost irresistible political target. Their very first speaker, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, wasted no time lending the first punch.
Representative JAMES McGOVERN (Democrat, Massachusetts): Members of this body will be faced with a simple choice: Will you vote to provide health insurance to millions of children, or will you vote to take health insurance away from the children who currently have it?
ROVNER: But while the compromised bill has strong support from Republicans in the Senate, conservatives in the House, like Pete Sessions of Texas, were more than ready to side with Mr. Bush.
Representative PETE SESSIONS (Republican, Texas): Today is a defining moment for an insatiable appetite that the new Democrat majority has for spending - spending taxpayer dollars and going well beyond the mission statement of SCHIP.
ROVNER: That mission statement, when the program was created 10 years ago, was to provide health coverage for children - families with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid but who's still couldn't afford their own private insurance.
President Bush says the compromise bill puts too many children who might otherwise have private coverage onto the government roles, Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling agreed.
Representative JEB HENSARLING (Republican, Texas): Make no mistake about it, this is a government run socialized health care wolf, masquerading in the SCHIP skin of children's health care.
ROVNER: But House Democratic caucus chairman Rahm Emanuel pointed out at a news conference yesterday that the Senate Republicans who negotiated the compromise are hardly wild-eyed liberals.
Representative RAHM EMANUEL (Democrat, Illinois): Excuse me, I never knew that Senator Orrin Hatch, Senator Grassley were members of the Socialist party. I never knew Governor Blunt, who asked for an extension in Missouri, was a member of the socialist party.
ROVNER: In the end, 45 House Republicans joined nearly all the Democrats in voting for the bill, including moderates like Heather Wilson of New Mexico who was a state Cabinet secretary in charge of children services when the program began.
Representative HEATHER WILSON (Republican, New Mexico): And it works. It gets kids health insurance that they need. We have big challenges in health care, but this isn't one of them. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
ROVNER: Indeed, Democrat Emanuel says he's not surprised that Republicans are starting to break with President Bush.
Rep. EMANUEL: In the '80s, the Republicans used to attack the poor. This president chose to attack middle class children getting health care. And it's one of the most bizarre turns in politics I've ever seen - that what they're doing now, is the president says, he's against providing health care insurance for middle class children. These are parents who work full-time. They are too rich for Medicaid and not enough money for private insurance.
ROVNER: But without an override majority, this bill isn't going to become law, at least not now.
Later today, the House is expected to pass a short-term extension of the children's health program the president will sign. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned yesterday that she'll keep bringing up the compromise bill again and again, trying to win over enough Republicans who, unlike President Bush, are running for reelection.
Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.
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