WASHINGTON - Congress approved legislation yesterday that would potentially add 4 million children to a popular healthcare program, setting up a veto fight that President Bush probably will win but handing Democrats a campaign issue for next year's elections.
Eighteen Republicans in the Senate lined up with Democrats in voting 67-29 to increase spending on the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, from about $5 billion to $12 billion annually for the next five years.
The vote was enough to override a promised Bush veto. But supporters in the House, which passed the bill Tuesday, are about two dozen votes shy of an override. Both chambers would have to muster two-thirds majorities to win a veto showdown.
Overall, spending for SCHIP would increase to $60 billion over five years in the unlikely prospect the bill becomes law - double what President Bush recommended.
Analysts projected the legislation would allow about 4 million of the estimated 9 million uninsured children in the United States to gain coverage.
Bush and most GOP lawmakers say the spending increase is too large and would expand the program beyond its original intent. That intent was to help families with incomes too large to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance.
In a statement after the Senate vote, the White House said Bush "will veto this bill because it directs scarce funding to higher incomes at the expense of poor families."
Democrats said there was strong public support for expanding the children's healthcare program.
They portrayed the president as isolated in his view that /the legislation would be a mistake.
"With each passing day, he reveals ever more clearly that the values of his administration are out of touch with those of average Americans," said Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts.
Some Republicans joined in that criticism.
"I just don't understand his decision, and I think it would be a terrible mistake," said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine.