The House approved a $35 billion expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) on Tuesday, but Democratic leaders said they probably didn't have the votes to override a threatened veto by President Bush. The president called the move—which would be paid for through higher taxes on tobacco products—a “step toward federalization of health care.”

How puzzling, said Ronald Brownstein in the Los Angeles Times (free registration). Bush "claims" children's health care "as his priority," yet he threatens to veto a bill that benefits "struggling working families and targets uninsured kids more efficiently than the alternative Bush has touted." Even many conservative Republicans disagree with his concerns.

Bush has it backwards, says The New York Times (free registration) in an editorial. He says Democrats are putting “poor children at risk” by forcing him to veto this bill. In reality, the president “is the one putting the health of America’s children at risk, threatening to veto carefully crafted legislation that would reauthorize and expand” this valuable program.

This is the right place for Democrats to make a stand, said E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post (free registration). Health care is the issue where they enjoy the broadest public support, and it’s where they have the most “Republican allies.” If they can override any veto, this is it. And they can’t afford to lose—this is the “first skirmish in the new battle for universal health coverage.”

“Why are the Democrats pushing so hard for a middle class entitlement program that will promote inefficiency and waste, wreck the private market, and become fiscally unsustainable by 2013 if not before?” said Power Line. Under the Senate’s version of this bill, more than 1 million kids would be added to the program, but about half that many would lose private insurance. The House bill is even worse. And there’s another problem with this “precursor” to the mandatory insurance of Hillarycare—“the federal government can’t afford it.”

No matter how the votes go, said Martin Kady II in The Politico, this issue is a winner for Democrats. If they lose, they get to poke holes in a “soft spot in the Republican armor” by portraying the GOP as having voted against poor children. As a bonus, the Democrats get to change the subject “after a string of GOP tactical successes on Iraq and the looming budget showdown.”