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US Lawmakers Fail to Override Presidential Veto of Child Health Care Bill

The House of Representatives has failed to override President Bush's veto of legislation approved by Congress that would have expanded a government-subsidized children's health insurance program. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.

Democrats needed to change the minds of enough lawmakers to override the president's veto of legislation expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program, one of the most fiercely fought domestic issues in recent times.

In a 273 to 156 vote, Democrats fell 13 short of the votes needed for a two-thirds majority of those voting. Overrides require two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate. When the Senate passed the bill in September, it achieved a veto-proof majority.

Under the 1997 program, the federal government and U.S. states assist children whose parents earn too much to qualify for the massive government Medicaid program, but not enough to afford private insurance.

About nine million children 18 and younger have no health insurance, while congressional budget statistics show about 6.5 million children and 671,000 adults received health insurance under the program in 2006.

The legislation Congress approved and the president vetoed proposed to expand funding by about $35 billion during the next five years.

President Bush said this would unreasonably expand the role of the government in health care. He proposed a much lower $5 billion expansion, adding that the program had grown to cover too many adults, and too many children in middle-income families.

Democrats cited public opinion polls showing a majority of Americans support expanding the program, noting that the legislation proposed to phase out adults, and would remain focused on low income families.

Michigan Congressman John Dingell accused Republicans of trying to confuse Americans.

"The debate here is about one thing only, health care for kids. Some have tried to change the subject, obfuscating this debate with misconceptions, half truths and outright lies," Dingell said.

Republicans accused Democrats of supporting an overly broad expansion, and failing to identify adequate budgeting to pay for it.

Republican Steven King asserted Democrats were also trying to score political points.

"That is what this debate is about, [to] make people dependent so they do not have individual responsibility, and you can have more people dependent on your votes on the floor of this Congress," King said.

President Bush says he remains open to negotiations to achieve a bipartisan solution, sending two officials to Capitol Hill.

"The president is extending a hand and reaching out," said spokeswoman Dana Perino at Thursday's White House briefing.

The override failure came at the end of a difficult week for House speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders.

Democratic leaders were forced to postpone a vote on a measure proposing to revise the law on anti-terrorist electronic surveillance and strengthen controls on executive power.

Speaker Pelosi also acknowledged that growing opposition to a non-binding Armenian genocide resolution, fueled by intense opposition from the Bush administration and Turkey, could block that measure from a vote in the House.