WASHINGTON, Oct 3 (Reuters) US President George W Bush today vetoed a measure to expand a popular children's health care program, launching the first in a series of major battles with Democrats over domestic spending.
The legislation would have provided an extra 35 billion dollars over five years for the health program, which is administered by the states. Taxes on tobacco products would have been raised to pay for the increase.
The health bill enjoyed bipartisan support. The veto is likely to anger a number in Bush's own Republican Party who fear the issue will cost them votes in the congressional and presidential elections.
Supporters of the bill said it would have helped provide health coverage for some 10 million children.
Bush contended the increase would have expanded the program beyond its original intent of covering low-income children and taken a step toward government-controlled health care.
He has proposed a much smaller increase of 5 billion dollars in the children's health program.
A Washington Post-ABC News polls showed more than seven in 10 Americans supported the 35 billion dollars increase proposed under the bill. By contrast, the same poll showed many wanted to see a reduction in Bush's spending proposal for the Iraq war.
The Senate overwhelmingly backed the health legislation. But the support for it in the House of Representatives may not be large enough to override Bush's veto.
Democrats have vowed to lobby Republicans who voted against the bill to try to get them to switch their votes. The party plans a series of television ads attacking Republicans over the children's health issue, including one featuring a mom with a chronically ill child.
Bush, with 16 months left in his presidency and waging an unpopular war in Iraq, has also threatened to veto a series of annual funding bills to keep domestic spending within his proposed limit of 933 billion dollars.
Bush is aiming to cast Democrats as fiscally reckless as he tries to shore up support from conservatives, many of whom are angry at Bush for allowing big increases in spending during his first six years in office.
The rejection of the health bill marks the fourth veto for Bush since he took office in 2001. He twice rejected legislation on stem cell research and also vetoed an Iraq war supplemental spending bill because it included timelines for withdrawing troops.
REUTERS SKB RAI2001