President Bush’s second veto of Children’s Health Insurance Program legislation drew sharp criticism from Democratic leaders in Congress, who promised to continue to work on the issue.

“It’s not yet Christmas, but President Bush is already behaving like the Grinch,” said Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee. Stark further chided the White House by contrasting the $35 billion price tag that the vetoed legislation carried with the president’s ongoing requests to fund the war.

“All I want for Christmas is a few more brave Republicans in Congress,’ he added. “With their help and the support of a united Democratic Caucus, we’ll overturn the President’s veto and take American health care in a new direction. Extending the Children’s Health Insurance Program is an important and substantial first step toward health care for all our children.”

Stark’s sentiment was echoed in the Senate by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

“Once again President Bush has slammed the door on our nation’s most vulnerable citizens–our children,” Kennedy said in response to the veto. “As we get ready to celebrate the holidays, we should remember how many of them have been left out in the cold by this administration. This should be a season of good will not a season of bad vetoes.”

The President’s veto message explained his decision as being on similar grounds as his decision to veto an earlier version of the bill, specifically that it would costs the government too much and provide coverage to children and parents that he felt did not need assistance.

“Like its predecessor, H.R. 976, this bill does not put poor children first and it moves our country’s health care system in the wrong direction,” he said. “Ultimately, our nation’s goal should be to move children who have no health insurance to private coverage –not to move children who already have private health insurance to government coverage.”

However, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., argued that the second SCHIP bill demonstrated Congress’ “willingness to compromise, and to go a long way for an agreement to renew and improve” the program. “This veto is just as wrong for America’s working families and for poor children as the President’s first rejection of children’s health legislation this year.”

Sen. Baucus said that work on the issue would continue, and that for the meantime he expects Congress to send the president another piece of legislation to maintain the program as is for the time being. “The hour is late now,” he said. “When the President gets his next chance to do something about CHIP-and a chance to improve health care for America’s seniors through Medicare-he must stop playing politics, and do at least a little better by Americans in need.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said House Democrats would introduce legislation to maintain the program to cover the program through the end of the fiscal year on September 30. She also vowed to continue the fight, saying that “Democrats will not rest until 10 million children in America have access to health care” and that the care is paid for by the federal government.

“Let it be clear that we will persist with this effort,” she added.

The Republican leader in the House, however, was equally critical of the majority, particularly its decision not to vote on a potential override until after the New Year.

“The majority consistently tells us that this Congress is focused on ‘the children.’ But their decision to delay this veto override vote is just more proof that what this Congress really is focused on is politics,” said Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. “By delaying the vote to override the President’s veto of their flawed bill to expand SCHIP to cover adults, illegal immigrants, and those who already have private health insurance, the majority has proven once again that they have no intention of renewing this program in a responsible, bipartisan way.”

Boehner added that Democrats had turned the issue into a “political football” and that the situation was “beyond disappointing, but after a year marked by non-stop partisan politics on Capitol Hill, it’s not at all surprising.”