EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

October 5, 2007

5th District race: Ogonowski, Tsongas tangle over Bush veto

BOSTON - Whoever is elected to the 5th Congressional District Oct. 16, it's possible he or she will vote just two days later on whether to override a presidential veto of money for a popular children's health care program.

Democrat Niki Tsongas yesterday accused Republican Jim Ogonowski of "ducking" questions about how he'd vote, while Ogonowski's team called the attack a partisan ploy.

The House is scheduled to take up the override Oct. 18, two days after the special election for the 5th Congressional District.

Tsongas, who wants President Bush's veto reversed, said Ogonowski owes it to tell voters what he'd do if elected.

"I think the voters deserve to know what Mr. Ogonowski would do," Tsongas said.

Dustin Olson, Ogonowski's campaign manager, declined to say how Ogonowski would vote.

"This is a partisan trap they're trying to draw us into," Olson said.

The Eagle-Tribune previously reported Ogonowski would vote to uphold the Bush veto. However, Olson said campaign spokesman Barney Keller may have misspoken in conversations with Eagle-Tribune reporters.

On Tuesday, President Bush vetoed a bill increasing funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, by $35 billion. The program pays for Medicaid coverage for about 90,000 children in Massachusetts, and is a key funding source for the state's new health care reform law.

The president vetoed the bill because he believed the appropriation was too large. He preferred limiting growth to $5 billion.

Tsongas supports the bill because it expands access to health insurance for children in families that can't afford it. She also pointed out that Massachusetts is counting on SCHIP money to move uninsured children onto Medicaid, as part of the state's health care reform law.

Olson said Ogonowski supports SCHIP expansion but thinks the bill Congress passed makes it too easy for illegal immigrants to get Medicaid benefits and deprive "disadvantaged kids" of benefits they deserve.

The bill Congress passed requires people seeking Medicaid benefits paid for by SCHIP to provide a Social Security number instead of a passport or citizenship documents as currently required. Ogonowski wants the bill rewritten to keep the current standard in place.

Tsongas said the bill had adequate protections against illegal immigrants receiving benefits. She's supported by state Secretary of Health and Human Services JudyAnn Bigby, whose office oversees SCHIP here.

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