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    Veto Risk Rises in SCHIP Bill

    The cigarette tax legislation, being worked out in Congress, still does not meet the White House's approval.

    WASHINGTON -- As the deadline for renewal looms for the State Children's Health Insurance Program, (SCHIP), a program that provides health insurance to low-income children, a bill is being constructed that would provide health insurance for 4 million children by increasing the deferral excise tax on cigarettes, The New York Times reported.

    The bill, being created by Senate and House negotiators, has a framework for a compromise, which resembles a bill passed by the Senate with bipartisan support. However, the bill is sure to catch the attention of President Bush, who said similar legislation is a step "down the path to government run health care or every American," the Times reported.

    "The House and the Senate still appear to be far away from legislation that we would find acceptable," Tony Fratto, White House spokesman, told the paper.

    Republicans state they will be called to support the compromise, but if a presidential veto comes to the bill, there could be enough votes in the House to sustain the veto.

    Congressional aides worked through the weekend to find compromises on the House and Senate bills. While some details have yet to be decided, aides told The Times that Congress would approve the compromise before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

    "I'm increasingly optimistic that we're going to have a deal. The House and Senate are working day and night to put together a framework that both Democrats and Republicans can support," Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.V.) told the paper.

    While neither the House nor Senate will see all its provisions come to fruition in the compromise, Rockefeller said "we are close to a compromise that will protect the health and future of millions of children."

    The compromise is predicted to pick up Republican votes in the House, however, not enough to override a presidential veto, according to republicans. A two-thirds majority is needed to override a veto from the president -- a total of 290 votes if all representatives are voting, the report stated.

    With the deadline for the renewal looming, governors from both sides have urged action. Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia, and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas wrote in a letter that said, "For the health and moral reasons, Congress must pass and the president must sign a reauthorization of the program by Sept. 30."

    If it is not done, "it will be virtually impossible for states to continue coverage for children already enrolled," according to the letter. By Oct. 1, 12 states would have no federal money available, according to the Congressional Research Service, while 23 other states would run out of money in the coming year, the report stated.

    The frameworks provides $60 billion for SCHIP during the next five years -- approximately the same as the Senate bill; $35 billion more than the current level of sending; $15 billion less than House provisions; and $30 billion more than the White House wanted, according to the report.

    "We have issues veto threats against both the House and Senate bills," Fratto said. "So the House moving forward the Senate position is not sufficient."

    The bill also stands to highlight the differences between President Bush and Congress. "If the president signs the bill we present to him, it's a major accomplishment," Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) told The Times. "If he vetoes the bill, it's a political victory for us. Public opinion polls show strong support for expanding kids' health coverage."

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