US President George W Bush on Wednesday vetoed a bill to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Programme (SCHIP), after it was passed with a large majority in the Senate.
Bush argues it takes the programme beyond its original purpose of insuring children from low-income families.
The vetoed bill proposed higher tobacco taxes to provide an extra $35bn (£17bn) to insure some 10 million children.
Eighteen Republican senators joined Democrats last week in passing the legislation by a 67-29 vote.
But the House of Representatives, which approved the bill by 265-159, was well short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.
It is only the fourth time Bush has used his veto power in the course of his presidency.
The SCHIP is directed at families who earn too much to qualify for the Medicaid programme for the poor but cannot afford private health insurance cover.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll suggested that more than seven in 10 Americans supported the $35bn increase proposed in the bill.
Hundreds of health workers and children marched in Washington DC, to the White House, on Monday to deliver mailbags overflowing with petitions from one million Americans demanding ‘health care for kids’.
Thousands of health workers gathered the petitions at hospitals, clinics and community events throughout the country.
The SEIU health workers trade union in the United States said: ‘Last week, both the House and Senate approved legislation to expand the successful State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), a change that would provide coverage to nearly ten million children whose families cannot currently afford private insurance.
‘President Bush has vowed to veto the bill.’
Mary Kay Henry, SEIU executive vice-president, added: ‘Healthcare workers are responsible every day for the quality of care their patients receive and they take that responsibility very seriously.
‘If President Bush vetoes this bill he is in total denial of what it means to be a responsible and caring leader.’
Senator Edward M Kennedy, gave his backing to the petition, saying: ‘The president and every member of Congress enjoy guaranteed healthcare coverage. We owe the children of America no less.’
In 1997, SCHIP legislation was passed in the face of escalating health insurance costs and poor quality child healthcare.
Kennedy said that if the president vetoed the new bill, ‘then our duty is clear – we will be back tomorrow, and the next day, and for however long it takes to see this bipartisan bill become law.’
He added: ‘Just over one month of the war in Iraq would pay for a year’s worth of coverage for 10 million kids.’
Kennedy stood with SEIU member Carolyn Chester Taylor as she described how SCHIP allowed her son to get the care he needed.
‘Without the help of SCHIP, health insurance would cost us one-third of our income,’ she said. ‘You do whatever you have to in order to take care of your kids, but I just don’t know how we would make ends meet.’
The SEIU and its allies now plan to launch a ‘National Voter Outreach Campaign’ in key Congressional districts, to press home their demands. The march on the White House ‘marked the launch of a national campaign’, the union said.
‘The effort, to be led by SEIU Healthcare and its allies, will mobilise support for expanding SCHIP, and will target key members of Congress.’
Dennis Rivera, chairman of SEIU Healthcare, said: ‘If President Bush and the members of Congress who did not support SCHIP think they can deny healthcare coverage for children by casting blame on hard-working parents, they are sadly mistaken.
‘These petitions prove that Americans won’t stand for that argument, nor will they stand with President Bush if he vetoes this bill.’
The Care for Kids petition drive was co-sponsored by Americans United for Change, the Campaign for America’s Future, Change America Now, the Coalition on Human Needs, Families USA, First Focus, Jobs with Justice, Moveon.org, NAACP, the National Education Association, PICO, True Majority, and USAction.
The fastest-growing union in North America, the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) now has 1.9 million members.
SEIU Healthcare unites more than one million nurses and healthcare workers in the hospital, nursing home, and homecare industries in a national union dedicated to ensuring the highest quality of care for every patient, fixing ‘our broken healthcare system’, and improving the lives of healthcare workers, their families, and their communities.
The SEIU also announced that: ‘Nearly 6,000 home-based child care providers across Maryland now have a united voice for their profession, after voting in a statewide election to form their union with SEIU Kids First.’
The union continued: ‘Ballots were counted by the American Arbitration Association and results announced September 25. Providers voted to join together in SEIU Kids First by more than 75 per cent.’
Madie Green, from District Heights, a child care worker for more than 25 years, said; ‘This is an exciting day for family child care providers and the kids and parents who depend on us. Now we have the strong voice we need to stand up for affordable, quality child care in Maryland.’
The nearly 6,000 workers receive part of their pay from the state, through the Department of Education’s ‘Purchase of Care program’, which helps parents afford child care while they work and support their families.
But the rates at which child care workers are reimbursed are so low, and payments so unreliable, says the SEIU, that many can’t afford to stay in the profession.
‘Since 1994, Maryland communities have lost nearly 3,000 licensed family child care providers,’ the union said.
Donya Paul, a mother from Wheaton who uses family child care, said: ‘Parents trust child care providers every day to do what’s right for our kids. With a united voice, our providers can work together to make child care a better place for our children and more reliable for working parents.’
Following the successful ballot, the union plans to negotiate with the state for more training opportunities, access to affordable health insurance, better reimbursements from the ‘Purchase of Care program’, and other improvements that would help child care workers to keep serving their communities.
The election does not affect the relationship between parents and their child care providers.
‘The only thing parents will notice is that the quality will improve, and it will be easier for families to find care when they need it,’ said Madie Green.
The child care workers fought for nearly three years to gain the right to vote for their union – forming a statewide steering council and organising committee in Maryland, and joining with parents and community advocates to lobby elected officials.
The workers’ victory reflects a growing trend in child care policy nationwide.
The SEIU said: ‘Since 2005, ten states have given providers the freedom to form a union, and Illinois, Oregon, and Washington have already approved union contracts to stabilise the industry and improve access to affordable, quality child care.’