Iraq or electoral debacles notwithstanding, President Bush seems determined to hang on to his less-and-less-government stance.
He has announced that that he will veto a bipartisan plan to expand the Children's Health Insurance Program.
He seems to be at odds with the Democratic majority in Congress, with a substantial number of Republican lawmakers and with many governors of both parties, who want to expand the popular program to cover some of the nation's 8 million uninsured children, but he doesn't seem to mind.
Key members of the Senate Finance Committee announced a bipartisan deal late last week that would raise the federal excise tax on cigarettes by 61 cents, to $1 a pack, to expand the program by $35 billion over the next five years.
That would create total program funding of $60 billion over the period — enough, lawmakers said, to cover 3.3 million additional youths while keeping the focus on children of the working poor.
The program, which expires Sept. 30, "has helped millions upon millions of low-income, uninsured American kids see doctors when they're sick," Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, said.
His colleagues have also sought an even bigger increase of $50 billion, for a total of $75 billion in funding over five years. It would be paid for in part by trimming payments to private Medicare plans for seniors.
Bush has attacked the proposals as big-government attempts to enlarge the federal role in health care, saying they would siphon choice away from individuals and reduce private insurance coverage for some children.
He has proposed about $5 billion in new funding for children's health insurance over five years, for a total of $30 billion — an amount the Congressional Budget Office says is too little even to keep covering the number of children enrolled now.
"The program is going beyond the initial intent of helping poor children," Bush said at an appearance in Cleveland last week. "It's now aiming at encouraging more people to get on government health care. ... I think it's wrong, and I think it's a mistake."
Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, said over the weekend that Bush's senior advisers "will certainly recommend a veto" of the Senate committee's proposal because of its size and the plan to fund it with a tax increase.
"Tax increases are neither necessary nor advisable to fund the program appropriately," he contended.
Besides, he said, "The proposal would dramatically expand the Children's Health Insurance Program, adding non-poor children to the program, and more than doubling the level of spending."
But the Finance Committee is expected to approve the Senate plan next week, sending it to the full Senate for action later this month.
Max Baucus said he would move ahead despite the veto threat.
"The Senate will not be deterred from helping more kids in need," Baucus said. "The president should stop playing politics and start working with Congress to help kids, through renewal of this program."