WASHINGTON - Democrats on Wednesday seized control of President Bush's veto of expanded children's health insurance coverage, making clear that they plan to use it as a political hammer against vulnerable Republicans, especially those who need support from moderate voters to win in next year's elections.
Hours after Bush vetoed legislation to renew and expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, the Democrats who control Congress said they'd schedule a vote for Oct. 18 in the House of Representatives to try to override the president.
Between now and then, a two-week wave of advertising and rallies are aimed, at least officially, at pressuring 15 to 20 more House Republicans to support the override. Some 45 House Republicans already had joined the 265-159 majority that approved the measure last week.
Democrats also are prodding 11 of their own who voted against the bill or missed the first vote. All told, Democrats need to pick up 25 more votes to override Bush's veto. However, if their override effort falls short of the two-thirds majority needed - as many Republicans predict, and some Democrats privately agree - that could put even more momentum behind the Democrats' drive to make this a major 2008 campaign issue, one that Democrats think will hurt several GOP presidential hopefuls as well as House incumbents who stand with Bush.
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Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said Bush "is turning a deaf ear to the crying health care needs of children. The president should not be so heartless when it comes to the children of America."
Surveys show that renewing and expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program to cover nearly 4 million more children enjoys wide public support among Republican voters as well as Democrats. The veto has isolated the president politically from many members of his party, 43 Democratic and Republican governors and more than 300 child advocacy, health industry, religious and civic groups that support the measure.
The Democratic National Committee wasted no time in turning the veto into a weapon: As Rudy Giuliani, who leads Republican presidential candidates in national polls, campaigned Wednesday in New Hampshire, the DNC blasted out a release declaring that the "Giuliani-backed Veto Denies New Hampshire Kids Health Care."
Meanwhile, a national coalition of anti-war and labor groups announced plans for protests in front of 200 congressional offices across the country.
"I know that the Republicans have made it a priority to go down with the president on this issue," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, said. "I think that the president will find himself isolated on it, whether we override or not."
A temporary funding agreement keeps the expiring SCHIP program afloat through Nov. 16.