(CBS/AP) House Democrats failed Thursday in their bid to override President Bush's veto of a bill to expand a popular children's health insurance program.
CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss reports 44 Republicans joined Democrats to override the veto, but it wasn't quite enough. The final tally, 273-156, was 13 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to enact the bill over Mr. Bush's objections. The bill had passed the Senate with a bigger than two-thirds majority.
The State Children's Health Insurance Program now subsidizes health care insurance coverage for about 6 million children at a cost of about $5 billion a year. The vetoed bill would have added 4 million more children, most of them from low-income families, to the program at an added cost of $7 billion annually.
To pay for the increase, the bill would have raised the federal tax on cigarettes from 39 cents to $1.00 a pack.
"This is not about an issue. It's about a value," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said just before the vote. "For the cost of less than 40 days in Iraq, we can provide SCHIP coverage for 10 million children for one year."
Said White House press secretary Dana Perino: "We won this round on SCHIP."
Noting a million-dollar lobbying campaign by several labor unions and advocacy groups that aimed to turn enough Republican votes for a successful override, she said: "It didn't work."
In the White House view, Thursday's vote was the starting bell for negotiations on a new bill. Mr. Bush is directing a team of negotiators to go to Capitol Hill right away, Perino said.
"The president would like to see SCHIP reauthorized and expanded. He has said that his priority is that poor children should be taken care of first," she said. "We would hope that they would like to have discussions with us soon."
CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller notes that Thursday's House vote puts the president's record at 4-0 when it comes to vetoes: four vetoes, none overridden.
Republican opponents said the bill would encourage too many middle-income families to substitute government-subsidized insurance for their private insurance. The bill gives states financial incentives to cover families with incomes up to three times the federal poverty level - $61,950 for a family of four.
"That's not low-income. That's a majority of households in America," said Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif.
But Democrats said the bill's original focus would remain intact. States would be given bonuses for signing up low-income children already eligible for the program but not enrolled.
"Under current law, these boys and girls are entitled to their benefits," said Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich. "Continuing to not provide them with coverage is a travesty."
The bill specifically states that illegal immigrants would remain ineligible for the children's program, but Republicans seized on a section that would allow families to provide a Social Security number to indicate eligibility. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said it's too easy to get a false number, which would give an opening for thousands of illegal immigrants to enroll.
There's overwhelming public support for expanding SCHIP. A CBS News poll released Wednesday found 81 percent of Americans, including a large majority of Republicans, favor increasing the program's coverage.