Last Updated: 2007-12-31 12:43:16 -0400 (Reuters Health)

CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) – President George W. Bush on Saturday signed into law a temporary extension of a popular health insurance program for children after months of deadlock with the Democratic-led Congress.

The legislation extends the program that covers about 6.6 million poor children through March 31, 2009, leaving decisions about renewal to the next president and Congress.

The legislation also provides a 0.5 percent increase for Medicare doctors for six months, delaying a scheduled 10 percent pay cut.

Bush twice vetoed more ambitious earlier bills that would have expanded the children’s health program to cover about 10 million children in low and moderate income families, despite bipartisan support.

Bush and Democrats have been locked in a fight over budget and spending and the president said the previous bills were too costly and would push more children into government-run health care instead of private plans.

Bush also objected to raising tobacco taxes to pay for the proposed expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program known as SCHIP.

Democrats had hoped for a short-term extension so they could reopen the battle before the November 2008 presidential and congressional elections, but Republicans forced them to extend it through March 2009.

In his weekly radio address, Bush vowed to push for spending restraint and low taxes in his last year in office.

"My resolution for the New Year is this: to work with Congress to keep our economy growing, to keep your tax burden low, and to ensure that the money you send to Washington is spent wisely — or not at all," Bush said.

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