CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) - After vetoing two attempts to expand a federally-funded, state-run health insurance program for poor children, President Bush on Saturday signed legislation that extends the State Children's Health Insurance Program at its current funding levels.
The extension will provide federal funding for those enrolled through the end of March 2009, according to a statement from the White House.
Bush vetoed two attempts to expand the program: one earlier this month, and another in October. In his veto message on Dec. 12, the president said the proposed bill a "moves our country's health care system in the wrong direction."
He said the bill was "essentially identical" to the one he spiked two months earlier. This bill "has the same problems as the flawed bill I previously vetoed," he said in a statement the White House released. "I must veto this legislation, too."
Both versions of the bill would have expanded the State Children's Health Insurance Program by nearly $35 billion over five years. After his October veto, Bush had proposed adding $5 billion to the program, and said the version he vetoed would have encouraged families to leave the private insurance market for the federally-funded, state-run program.
SCHIP currently covers about 6 million children whose parents earn too much to qualify for Medicaid - the federal health insurance program for the poor - but who can't afford private insurance. Democrats wanted to extend the program to another 4 million, paying for it with a 61-cent-per-pack increase in the federal tax on cigarettes.
Democratic leaders said the December version of the bill addressed Republican objections by tightening restrictions on illegal immigrants receiving SCHIP benefits; capping the income levels of families that qualify for the program; and preventing adults from receiving benefits. Though the measure had strong bipartisan support, it fell short of the two-thirds majorities needed to override a presidential veto in the House and Senate.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi blasted the president for vetoing the proposed bills. "What a sad day that the president would say that rather than insuring 5 million children, I don't want to raise the cigarette tax," Pelosi, D-California, said after the December veto. But House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Democrats were more interested in scoring political points with the veto than in reaching a compromise with Republicans.
"We could have resolved the differences in his program in 10 minutes, if the majority had wanted to resolve the differences," Boehner said in December. "This has become a partisan political game."