After weeks of political rhetoric and millions of dollars in TV ads, supporters of a proposed $35 billion expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, were handed a defeat Thursday afternoon, having failed to move even one House Republican to change his mind and vote in favor of the program.
Supporters of the bill, designed to expand coverage of health insurance for children from families not destitute enough to qualify for Medicaid but still unable to afford coverage, had hoped to garner enough votes in the House of Representatives to override President Bush's Oct. 3 veto.
"The president, on the issue of insuring 10 million children, does not share our values," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "Health care for America's children is a value, it is an ethic, it is what should be fundamental to a country."
But the House vote ) was 273 in favor of the override, 156 against -- 13 votes short of the two-thirds majority of those present and voting required for an override.
The 273-156 number was not different enough from the 265-159 vote to pass the program on Sept. 25. And no GOP votes changed, indicating that despite three weeks of trying to change Republican votes, Democrats, public interest groups and other supporters, such as Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, made no headway.
On the original vote, 45 Republicans broke with the White House and supported the SCHIP expansion. This time, 44 Republicans voted that way.
"This is the legislative process," said Pelosi, who said she intends to bring up another SCHIP bill -- one intended to "get many more" Republican supporters -- for a vote within the next two weeks.
Pelosi said she would not compromise on the number of children for whom she wants to expand coverage --10 million. And she said she would not compromise on the funding source, an increased tobacco tax that includes an additional 61 cents for a pack of cigarettes, which Bush has objected to as a tax that primarily hurts lower-income individuals.
House Democrats said they would be willing to compromise on making the language of the legislation more explicit, for example, stipulating that illegal immigrants could not be covered under SCHIP, an issue Republicans had made hay over, as well as making it more explicit that the bill would cover only children from families with incomes at and under 300 percent of the federal poverty level.
There is also talk about a tax credit, which Republicans have been pushing.
"The American people are tired of all the political games," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. "They want us to find some way to work together to resolve our differences and to help move American forward."
White House press secretary Dana Perino today said that Bush was willing to work with Democrats in Congress. "He has said that his priority is that poor children should be taken care of first. He has offered a 20 percent expansion in funding. He has said that if in the negotiations there is a desire and there is a belief and evidence that we need to have more money put toward that goal of covering those 500,000 children that we know right now who are eligible for SCHIP but who haven't been found to be able to get on the program, that he's willing to go to a higher number."
Rhetoric on the floor of the House did not meet these lofty bipartisan sentiments.
"What this is about," said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, " is SCHIP stands for 'Socialized Clinton-style Hillarycare for Illegals and their Parents."
Not to be outdone, Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark, D-Calif., said Republicans were claiming they "don't have money to fund the war or children. But you're going to spend it to blow up innocent people -- if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president's amusement."