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Senators hope strong vote for children's insurance program will change Bush's opposition

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Senators supporting a large spending increase for a popular children's health insurance program hope that a wide margin of bipartisan approval will persuade President Bush to change his mind about vetoing the measure.

The Senate, which overwhelming approved similar legislation two months ago, was scheduled to vote Thursday on the bill funding the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP. The program would receive $60 billion over the next five years under the Senate proposal.

The House approved similar legislation Tuesday, but not by a veto-proof margin. With both houses of Congress required to override a presidential veto by two-thirds majorities, the measure is thought to be doomed even with substantial GOP backing.

"This compromise bill maintains the focus on low-income uninsured children and adds coverage for more than 3 million low-income children," Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Wednesday on the Senate floor.

Bush has recommended spending $30 billion on the program, which subsidizes health coverage for children in families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance.

The president and many GOP lawmakers who oppose the bill say it would extend government-sponsored health coverage to middle-income families. It could potentially let the state of New York amend its program to cover children up to four times the federal poverty level, or nearly $83,000 for a family of four, opponents argue.

White House officials acknowledge that the current administration or future ones would have to grant New York's application to expand SCHIP coverage to that income level. But Bush spokesman Tony Fratto said it would be "next to impossible" to reject such an application because of the bill.

Grassley has said he doesn't buy that argument. He said the SCHIP legislation does nothing to change the authority that Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt has when it comes to eligibility limits in the states.

"The authority to approve what states do with the CHIP program rests with him and no one else," Grassley said.

The children's health program expires on Sept. 30. A bill that would temporarily fund the program at current levels, as well as the budgets of 15 Cabinet departments and dozens of agencies, passed the House on Wednesday.


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