Congressional Democrats vowed to override President Bush’s veto of a popular children’s health bill, setting up a showdown when the House puts the measure to a vote on Oct. 18. Bush said his veto—only the fourth of his presidency—was necessary because the $35-billion expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program amounted to federalized health care.

Bush said he was willing to compromise on a smaller expansion that didn’t extend government-funded insurance to middle-class families. “Poor kids first,” Bush said. Democrats in the House passed the measure with less than the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto, but hope the bipartisan proposal’s popularity with voters will increase pressure before the vote. “This is going to be a hard vote for Republicans,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Bush’s veto “put partisanship over compassion and defied the goodhearted will of the public,” said the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in an editorial. Polls consistently show that Americans overwhelmingly support this plan—even when told that tobacco taxes will be raised to pay for it. If House Republicans who voted “no” don’t come around, they “should expect questions about where they were when kids lost.”

Enough with the histrionics, said the New York Post in an editorial. “If anything, the veto will help poor, sick kids and their struggling families.” The program was created to help youngsters in families too well-off to qualify for Medicaid, but too poor to afford private insurance. The Democrats want to “pervert” the program by making it “a vehicle for expanding government-run health care for all.” That will only make it “unaffordable,” and where will poor kids be when it goes broke?

Funny, said Froma Harrop in The Providence Journal, but Bush and his allies weren’t so worried about affordability when they pushed through the Medicare prescription-drug benefit. That extension of “taxpayer-subsidized health care” will “easily” cost $720 billion over 10 years. The difference is that “the Medicare drug law gave insurers and drug makers a big piece of the action,” but the SCHIP plan doesn’t. All Democrats have to do to get “Bush’s blessing” is spend more—not less—cutting private businesses in on the deal, and “all the complaints about socialized medicine” will melt away.

Republicans have nothing to apologize about on health care, said The Washington Times in an editorial. Their Medicare drug law is “now proven way to save taxpayers' money.” The GOP also has supported medical malpractice reform to further push down health-care prices. Their tax credits for health coverage have helped many people get the care they need. “Rather than talking only about expanding existing government programs—as Democrats do—Republicans could emphasize their impatience with the bureaucratic status quo and become the party of change on health care.”

All Bush’s veto did was “mobilize support for government intervention in the health-care market, which would be a very good thing,” said Timothy Noah in “Thank you, Mr. President!”