WASHINGTON – President Bush accused Democratic lawmakers on Friday of wasting time by passing legislation to expand children's health coverage, knowing that he would veto it again. At the same time, he criticized Congress for failing to approve spending bills to keep the government running.
Bush said Congress had "set a record they should not be proud of: October 26 is the latest date in 20 years that Congress has failed to get a single annual appropriations bill to the president's desk."
He also complained that Congress had failed to pass a permanent extension of a moratorium on state and local taxes on Internet access, and that the Senate had not yet confirmed Michael Mukasey as attorney general. Further, he chided Congress for failing to approve more money for Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Senate on Thursday night approved a seven-year extension of the Internet tax moratorium; differences with a House-passed version still have to be worked out.
Bush made his comments to reporters in the Roosevelt Room a day after the House passed new legislation to expand children's health coverage. Bush vetoed an earlier version, and the latest bill was little changed from the earlier measure. The bill — approved with less than the two-thirds majority needed to overturn another veto — now goes to the Senate. The House vote was 265-142.
Bush said that Congress needs to "stop wasting time and get essential work done on behalf of the American people."
Democrats said Republicans were making a mistake in opposing the children's health bill.
"They won't take yes for an answer," Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., said of Republicans.
He said that in the week since they failed to override Bush's first veto, Democrats had systematically addressed earlier complaints that the bill failed to place a priority on low-income children, did not effectively bar illegal immigrants from qualifying for benefits and was overly generous to adults.
A White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, mocked the suggestion that Democrats — and Emanuel in particular — were acting on principle. "I think the last principal Rahm Emanuel knew was in high school." Told of the remark, Emanuel chuckled.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland raised the possibility that additional changes were possible before the bill would be sent to the White House.
At the same time, he added, "I don't want to be strung along" by Republicans merely feigning an interest in bipartisan compromise.
Senate passage is highly likely, particularly with senior Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Orrin Hatch of Utah among the bill's most persistent supporters.
The legislation is designed chiefly to provide coverage for children whose families make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to purchase private insurance.
In general, supporters said it would extend coverage to children of families making up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $62,000 for a family of four.
At that level, congressional officials said, it would cover about 4 million children who now go without, raising the total for the program overall to 10 million kids. The $35 billion cost over five years would be covered by an increase in the tobacco tax of 61 cents a pack.
The vote unfolded one week after the House failed to override Bush's earlier veto, and indicated that the changes Democrats had made failed to attract much, if any, additional support.
The 265 votes cast for the measure came up seven shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto. In addition, 14 Republicans who voted to sustain Bush's original veto were absent.
Public opinion polls show widespread support for the issue, and the political subtext was never far from the surface on a day of acrimony.