Walden sides with Bush on SCHIP

Rep. Greg Walden, bucking pressure from Democrats and one of Oregon's most powerful labor unions, sided with President Bush and voted Thursday not to override his veto of legislation to expand a popular health insurance program for low-income children.

The bipartisan proposal, financed with an increased tobacco tax, fell 13 votes short of the two-thirds majority supporters needed to override the president's veto so that an additional 4 million children from middle-income families could obtain health insurance through the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

In the House vote, 229 Democrats and 44 Republicans supported the bill. In the Senate, the proposal passed last month with more than a two-thirds majority.

Walden, the Republican who represents Ashland and Medford, was the only member of Oregon's congressional delegation to oppose the proposed $35 billion expansion of the program, known as SCHIP, which covers children whose parents earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford private coverage.

About 2,500 children in Jackson County are currently covered under the program that has temporary funding through Nov. 16.

Service Employees International Union Local 503 aired television spots condemning his opposition to the program; and in advance of Thursday's vote, the union held a candlelight vigil at the congressman's office on Wednesday to urge him to side with Democrats to override the president.

For his part, Gov. Ted Kulongoski, in a letter to the state's congressional delegation, wrote that the SCHIP bill "represents a common-sense and bipartisan approach that will ensure that health coverage for millions of currently enrolled children is not jeopardized."

Under the program, the federal government supplies two dollars for every dollar the state pays for health insurance for low- and moderate-income children. During Fiscal Year 2007, Oregon received $56.7 million, administered through the Oregon Health Plan.

Walden, like many of his Republican colleagues, objected to the proposal because he argued it would have encouraged moderate-income Americans to eschew private coverage and enroll in the government-sponsored program instead.

He complained additionally that the Democrat-backed proposal would have been financially unsustainable, dependent on raising the federal tobacco tax by 61 cents, to $1 a pack. He objected also to illegal immigrants being covered under the program that was enacted originally by a Republican-controlled Congress as part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.

Still, Sen. Gordon Smith, the state's only other Republican member of Congress, expressed disappointment that the House was not able to muster the votes to implement a proposal that he was an architect of and has championed for months.

"I believe there is room to discuss the concerns raised by my colleagues, however, I will not stand for a bill that doesn't provide the dollars needed to cover those kids eligible for the program, but who are not already enrolled," Smith said in a statement.

President Bush on Wednesday expressed his willingness for a compromise, saying he had "made clear that, if putting poor children first requires more than the 20 percent increase in funding I proposed, we'll work with Congress to find the money we need."

The president previously proposed an increase of $5 billion for the 10-year-old insurance program.

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