Democrats pushed through legislation Wednesday to add 6-million lower-income children to a popular health insurance program while making deep cuts in federal payments to Medicare HMOs, defying a veto threat from President Bush.
The House voted 225-204, mostly along partisan lines, to pass the legislation, which would add $50-billion to the decade-old State Children's Health Insurance Program and roll back years of Republican-driven changes to Medicare.
It would slash federal payments to private insurance companies that cover seniors under Medicare and shift money to doctors and benefits for low-income seniors.
A more limited, $35-billion expansion of the children's health care program without broader Medicare changes appeared headed for a bipartisan endorsement in the Senate by the end of the week, despite another threatened veto. Bush has proposed spending half as much on the program over the next five years.
In a veto threat of the House bill Wednesday, the administration said the legislation "favors government-run health care over private health insurance," and spends too much.
Florida representatives voted along party lines, with Democrats voting for the measure and Republicans against it.
SURVEILLANCE PROGRAM: Senate Democrats agreed to give the government greater authority to spy on foreign terror suspects, but only temporarily and with court review of the attorney general's role in deciding how the power is used. The proposal by Senate Intelligence Chairman Jay Rockefeller sought to strike a balance between an urgency to uncover terror plots and a concern by lawmakers about giving more power to the administration and its embattled attorney general, Alberto Gonzales.
GONZALES EXPLAINS: Gonzales conceded that he used confusing language when describing national security efforts during recent Senate testimony, seeking to set the record straight about the government's terror surveillance program and clear questions about his credibility. In a two-page letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Gonzales said, "I am deeply concerned with suggestions that my testimony was misleading, and am determined to address any such impression. I recognize that the use of the term 'Terrorist Surveillance Program' and my shorthand reference to the 'program' publicly 'described by the president' may have created confusion." Leahy was not swayed. "It is time for full candor to enforce the law and promote justice, rather than word parsing."
PROSECUTOR FIRINGS: President Bush is expected to claim executive privilege to prevent two more White House aides from testifying before Congress about the firings of federal prosecutors. Today is the deadline for Karl Rove, Bush's top political adviser, to provide testimony and documents related to the firings, under a subpoena from the Senate Judiciary Committee. Also subpoenaed was White House political aide J. Scott Jennings. White House Counsel Fred Fielding has consistently said that top presidential aides - present and past - are immune from subpoenas and has declared the documents sought off-limits under executive privilege.
WATER PROJECTS: President Bush will veto a $20-billion water projects bill unless lawmakers remove the billions added for new plants and new costs shifted onto the federal government, the White House said. The veto threat came as the House prepared to take up the bill, loaded with $5-billion in new drinking water and wastewater treatment plants proposed by Senate and House negotiators.