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Showdown in Congress over child healthcare.

A bill to extend insurance for children by $35 billion faces a likely veto.

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With a popular children's health insurance program set to expire this week, US lawmakers who want to expand it are scrambling to find enough votes to withstand a probable veto of their legislation.

It's the first in what is shaping up to be a season of standoffs over funding. President Bush has threatened to veto nine of 12 spending bills for fiscal year 2008, as well as the proposed renewal of the 10-year-old State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP).

But with access to healthcare becoming a top issue in the 2008 presidential campaign, the skirmish over a relatively modest program, originally launched with bipartisan support, is becoming a proxy fight for larger, more divisive matters.

Tensions over spending intensified Monday, as Mr. Bush took a shot at the Democratic-controlled Congress for failing to move on appropriations bills.

"The fiscal year ends in less than a week. Yet Congress has not sent a single appropriations bill to my desk. Not one," said Bush in remarks on the budget Monday. "If they think that by waiting until just before they leave for the year to send me a bill that is way over budget and thicker than a phone book, if they think that's going to force me to sign it, it's not. This would be bad for our country, it would be harmful for our economy, it would be unfair for the taxpayers," he said.

Democrats said that, with record deficits, Bush was spoiling for a fight with the Congress over spending to rebuild ties to the GOP conservative base.

"It's no wonder the president is rightly defensive about his fiscal record, and clearly he is itching to veto appropriations bills for fiscal year 2008 in a vain attempt to reestablish his bona fides with conservative groups," said House majority leader Steny Hoyer, responding to Bush's remarks.

But the first fight before the Congress will be over the S-CHIP renewal, which goes to the House floor this week.


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