CRAWFORD, Texas – President Bush on Saturday signed legislation that extends a popular children's health insurance program after twice beating back attempts to expand it.
Politically, the move was a victory for Bush, although Democrats say it will come back to hurt Republicans at the polls. Two times, Bush vetoed bills that would have broadened coverage to more children.
The extension of the State Children's Health Insurance Program is expected to provide states with enough money to cover those enrolled through March 2009. Bush and some Republican lawmakers say the program will still serve those that it should: children from families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private insurance.
"We're pleased that the program will be extended and that states can be certain of their funding," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.
Yet many Democrats — with help from other Republicans — wanted to give the program a significant cash infusion and broaden coverage to an estimated 4 million children. They overwhelmingly supported use of a tobacco tax increase to pay for the expansion.
The matter came to dominate legislative debate and further sour relations between the Democratic leadership and Bush this year.
The Democratic-pushed bills would have expanded the program by $35 billion. Bush said the legislation did not put the neediest children first. He opposed the tax increase and, more broadly, fought against what he saw as a movement toward more government health coverage.
The joint federal-state program currently provides benefits to roughly 6 million people, mostly children. Democratic lawmakers still want to expand enrollment and are negotiating with some Republicans leaders on another try.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Saturday that Democrats won't stop "until 10 million children receive the health care coverage they deserve."