KEVIN FREKING Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON
House supporters tried today to revive a health bill they said would aid more of the nation's most vulnerable children, but they appeared to lack the votes needed to override President Bush's veto. Supporters of the measure stressed that a proposed $35 billion spending increase for the Sta t e Childre n ' s Health Insurance Program would allow about 10 million people to participate up from 6.6 million currently. The vast majority of enrollees are children. "These are t h e most vulnerable people in our society," said Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., as he opened the debate. Republicans countered that they support the program and want to renew it. But states should focus on poor children first and enroll at least 90 percent of currently eligible children before they use federal funds to cover other families, said Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga. House Democrats appeared about 15 votes short of the twothirds majority needed for an override as today's debate began. Bush, anticipating that his veto will stand, has assigned three top advisers to try to negotiate a new deal with Congress after today's vote. The president said his veto gives him a chance to weigh in on the future of the State Children's Health Insurance Program. "Sometimes the legislative branch wants to go on without the president, pass pieces of legislation and the president can then use the veto to make sure he's a part of the process," Bush said. Leading the discussions for his administration are Mike Leavitt, the health and human services secretary; Al Hubbard, director of the National Economic Council; and Jim Nussle, the White House budget chief. But supporters of the bill passed last month by Congress say t h ey a l ready have compromised. The House originally had proposed a $50 billion increase over five years. The bill is bipartisan and the Senate has shown it could override a veto. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has replied with an emphatic "no" when asked if he would seek a c o m p ro m i s e w i t h t h e administration. Both the House and Senate have to override a veto for a bill to become law over a president's objection. Through the program, the government and the states subsidize the cost of health coverage for families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance. Bush has recommended a $5 billion increase, bringing total spending over five years to $30 billion half the level called for in the bill that he vetoed. The president has said the measure that passed Congress encourages families with higher incomes to drop private coverage so that they can get their insurance paid for by the government. Dozens of advocacy groups have endorsed the bill, which would increase enrollment from about 6.6 million now to about 10 million by 2012. Proponents emphasized that the program still would focus on low-income families. Dingell said more than 90 percent of families covered have incomes below $41,300 for a family of four. That is the range that the program wa s originally designed to help. "There will be no wealthy people covered," Dingell said.