Health Secretary Expects Override Effort To Fail

Sunday, October 7th 2007, 6:32 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) President Bush's health secretary said Sunday he does not expect Congress to override a veto on children's insurance and warned that the popular program could be at risk unless Democrats restrain spending.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said President Bush would be willing to provide more than the $5 billion increase over five years that he first proposed. He declined to say how much additional money was possible.

But in a warning to Democratic leaders who have pledged to stick with their $35 billion increase, Health Secretary Mike Leavitt said President Bush would not waver despite attempts to override his veto last week.

An override requires a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate. The Senate approved the increase by a veto-proof margin, but the House fell about two dozen votes short of a two-thirds majority. The House has scheduled an override vote for Oct. 18.

Health Secretary Mike Leavitt said the Democratic-controlled Congress, not the Republican administration, would pay the political price if the State Children's Health Insurance Program stalls due to gridlock. Congress has continued funding the program at its current level until mid-November as part of legislation keeping government agencies operating beyond Oct. 1, the start of the new budget year.

``I'm presuming the Democrats do in fact want the children's insurance program to be reauthorized,'' Secretary Mike Leavitt said.

``The president knows bad policy when he sees it. He has said as clearly as possible that 'I want to reauthorize this program and I'm prepared to add to the 20 percent increase I've already proposed.' But we need to have a serious conversation that involves all of the points of view,'' Health Secretary Mike Leavitt said.

He added, ``Once we agree on our priorities, then the proper number will arrive.''

After his veto, President Bush immediately signaled a willingness to compromise on a new bill, but congressional Democrats stood firm.

``You cannot wring another ounce of compromise out of this,'' Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said last week.