Top United Methodist leaders in the USA are among the church and community leaders are calling on the Congress to override a presidential veto of a bill that would expand a poor children's health insurance programme to be funded by a tax on cigarettes.
Even as President George W. Bush vetoed reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Programme - popularly known as SCHIP - on 3 October 2007, the Rev R. Randy Day, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, began faxing letters to all US senators and representatives regarding the veto. He also e-mailed a last-minute appeal to the White House.
"We firmly believe that all children in the US deserve the opportunity for a healthy life and the people of The United Methodist Church strongly agree and have voiced their support for the SCHIP legislation," the letter to each member of Congress stated. "The substantial bipartisan support for SCHIP proves that this reauthorization is needed and worthy of your undivided support."
The UMC, Mr Bush's church originally, continued: "The urgent need for this legislation can be seen in the fact that the number of uninsured children increased by one million in the past year. Children's lives are at stake if this legislation does not get enacted."
Currently, SCHIP is a popular state-federal program that provides health insurance for some 6.6 million children. It would cover about 4 million more under the legislation passed by Congress, and the entire program would cost $35 billion over five years.
Speaking in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, after the veto, President Bush said he thought the bill expanded the programme beyond its focus on poor children and was a step toward "federalizing" medicine, according to a CNN report.
Campaigners point out that the programme would have been funded by a 61 cent tax on cigarettes. Congress had voted to expand SCHIP by $35 million over five years, and add two to four million to its rolls.
For a congressional override, at least 15 Republicans would need to change their votes.
James Winkler, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, pointed out that his agency has "worked tirelessly as part of an interfaith effort to rally support for the State Children's Health Insurance Program.
He declared: "We are deeply disappointed that President Bush vetoed this bill which received bipartisan support and which promised to provide health care to 10 million children over this five-year span."
Day's letter noted that "the reauthorization and increased funding for SCHIP is of utmost priority as it will allow states to continue their commitment to providing health insurance coverage to the millions of currently enrolled children, and provide the opportunity for additional children to have access to this vital health coverage so that no child is denied due to a lack of federal resources."
It added: "Medicare is a programme that improves the health and quality of life for seniors," Day wrote. "I fervently maintain that the same kind of care be available for all children through comprehensive child health coverage."
Harriett Olson, chief executive of the UMC board's Women's Division, added her support to Day's letter, calling SCHIP a "critical step" in protecting the nation's children.
She said: "One of the measures by which a society is judged is the quality of the care and support it offers to its most vulnerable," she said. "Children in this country are among the most vulnerable and it is our moral and ethical responsibility to support basic health care for them."
The Board of Church and Society believes Congress has a moral duty to override the veto.
"The President's act of veto of this legislation is contrary to our denomination's understanding of God's abundant provision for all God's children - including the provision of health care," Winkler said.