As President Bush made good on his promise Wednesday to veto a bipartisan funding bill for a popular children's health insurance plan, local child advocates were already rallying support for an override.
Support for what would be the president's first override in his administration is all but certain in the Senate and anything but in the House. Nearly two dozen Republicans would have to switch in an override vote tentatively scheduled for Oct. 15.
Congress approved a $35 billion increase in funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program over the next five years seven times the $5 billion Bush believes should be appropriated.
The president believes any more than that amounts to a step toward federalizing health care in the United States. On the other hand, lawmakers in both parties along with national and local child care advocacy groups assert that $5 billion amounts to a funding cut.
Bush vetoed the bill in private, absent the television cameras and other media coverage that normally attend even routine presidential actions. The measure called for adding an estimated 4 million mostly lower-income children to a program that currently covers 6.6 million. Funds for the expansion would come from higher tobacco taxes, including a 61-cent increase on a pack of cigarettes.
"Poor kids first," Bush said later in explaining his decision, reflecting a concern that some of the bill's benefits would go to families at higher incomes. "Secondly, I believe in private medicine, not the federal government running the health-care system," he added in remarks to an audience in Lancaster, Pa.
A compromise or an extension could still be worked out. Regardless, CHIP managers in Utah say the insurance plan, which covers about 27,000 children of working Utah families who don't receive medical coverage and are too poor to buy it, can operate without significant financial stress for at least six months.
Three of the lawmakers who would have to change their minds are Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, and Reps. Chris Cannon and Rob Bishop, both R-Utah, all of whom voted against the CHIP reauthorization.
Urging their reconsideration got under way Wednesday afternoon when about 20 people protested in front of Cannon's Provo office.
"I'm here because I think it's unconscionable to leave out so many children," said Piper Manesse, a mother from Spanish Fork who came with her two home-schooled sons.
"Obviously this is outrageously unfortunate," said Judi Hilman, executive director of the Utah Health Policy Project, noting that the president's arguments against the CHIP bill that it's the beginning of socialized medicine because middle-class children will be eligible "are based on false premises. That's one thing that makes this so painful."
If not funded according to the compromise bill, Utah will have neither the flexibility to be cost-effective nor the ability to follow through with general initiatives proposed by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to cover all uninsured Utahns, Hilman said.
May Romo, whose two young grandchildren have been periodically covered by CHIP, said she wishes TV networks would daily post the faces of uninsured children.
"As Americans, we kind of get apathetic. But once you start seeing the faces, it starts to move you," Romo said. "I think it's time for drastic measures.".
Another grandmother, Gerry Ann Marty of Salt Lake City, began calling Utah's congressional delegation and sending e-mails as soon as she heard about the president's veto. "I was so angry, and that was putting it mildly."
Marty said two of her grandsons, both diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, "would probably be dead today if not for CHIP and community health centers." The president, she said, doesn't understand what it's like for children who don't have even basic health-care coverage.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, issued a statement Wednesday praising CHIP and noting, "I believe that some have given the president bad advice on this matter, because I believe that supporting this bipartisan compromise to provide health coverage to low-income children is the morally right thing to do."
Karen Crompton, executive director of Voices for Utah Children, thought it was ironic that Bush vetoed the CHIP bill just two days after proclaiming Oct. 1 "Child Health Day." Children, Crompton said, "need health care, not proclamations."
CHIP, she said, has helped reduce the number of uninsured children by one-third.
The first of two rallies "Rally for Our Children's Health Care" is scheduled for today at 6 p.m. The sponsor, moveon.org, had not determined an exact downtown meeting site at press time.
Contributing: Suzanne Struglinski, Sara Israelsen, Associated Press