WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Bush administration sought Wednesday to turn a coming debate over children's health insurance into one that focuses on helping all of the uninsured.
The newest effort is an attempt to revive a plan Bush unveiled earlier this year that has languished in the Democratic-controlled Congress. Under that plan, Bush called for making health insurance more affordable for many families through changes in the tax code. Meanwhile, some families with expensive insurance policies would see their taxes go up.
Bush's proposal would treat health insurance benefits as taxable income. On Wednesday, he said he would be willing to discuss whether taxpayers should get a standard deduction, as he originally suggested, or a tax credit to compensate.
The latter option would be more helpful to many low-income families because they would get the credit even if they owe little or no income tax.
Bush said a tax credit of $5,000 per family would have a similar effect as the deduction.
``I'm open to further discussions about these two options,'' he told reporters.
Democratic leaders have focused their efforts this year on renewing a popular health insurance program for low-income children. Their proposal would triple funding for the program by adding $50 billion over five years.
The president made it clear that he opposes such an expansion. He and his advisers have called the coming fight over how much to expand the program a decisive moment in health care _ a moment that could lead to more government-sponsored coverage or more coverage through the private sector.
``It's clear to us that the conversation needs to be not just about how we insure children with low incomes, but how we assure that every American has access to a basic, affordable plan,'' said Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.
The first action on the State Children's Health Insurance Program is expected to take place in the Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said the president's tax proposals should remain a separate issue.
``Congress has a solemn responsibility to renew the CHIP program and to find ways for more children to benefit from this proven success,'' Baucus said. ``Replacing this effort with controversial health care tax proposals would not be a responsible path to take.''