Senator challenges Bush over veto threat

Sen. Gordon Smith urged President Bush on Thursday not to veto legislation that would raise the federal tobacco products tax to double funding for a health insurance program for children whose parents cannot afford to insure them.

"This bill marries good policy with good health care common sense by funding a vital program for kids and discouraging smoking among our youth," the Oregon Republican said.

Approved this week by Congress, a bipartisan compromise would increase funding for the 10-year-old State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, by $35 billion over five years and extend the program, which is set to expire Sept. 30, but is to be given temporary funding through Nov. 16.

Under the compromise Smith championed, the program, which subsidizes states' costs of insuring low-income children, for the first time would provide dental coverage and allow states to cover pregnant women.

"We have found a workable solution to get coverage to those kids in need without overextending the goals of the program," said Smith, one of 18 Republicans in the Senate who sided with Democrats to pass the legislation. "It would be irresponsible of the White House to veto this bill and deny millions of kids their chance at a healthy childhood."

Supported by the American Medical Association, the proposal would raise the federal excise tax on cigarettes by 61 cents, to $1 a pack, providing the revenue to enroll an additional 36,000 Oregon children in the program, and 4 million more children nationally.

In Jackson County, the program already covers nearly 2,500 children whose parents earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford to purchase them health insurance.

In the House, where the bill passed Tuesday 265-159, Rep. Greg Walden, the Republican who represents Ashland and Medford, opposed the measure citing the president's long-stated veto threat.

"It's time for Congress and the White House to sit down in good faith and work out a reauthorization plan for children's health that can become the law of the land," Walden said.

In a statement after the Senate's 67-29 vote, the White House said in a statement that President Bush will veto the bill because it "directs scarce funding to higher incomes at the expense of poor families.

"We should take this time to arrive at a more rational, bipartisan SCHIP reauthorization bill that focuses on children in poor families who don't currently have insurance, rather than raising taxes to cover people who already have private insurance," the White House said.

SCHIP will be funded at its current level until Nov. 16, under a stopgap 2008 budget measure approved by Congress on Thursday to allow lawmakers more time to negotiate with the president over disagreements on discretionary spending.

covers government for the Ashland Daily Tidings. You can reach him at

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