Dems tout new children’s bill

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday unveiled a revised bill to expand health insurance for needy children, hopeful they will muster enough support to override another possible veto by President George W. Bush.

Drafted with input from some Republicans, the bill was set for a vote Thursday by the Democratic House, and would then be sent to the Democratic-led Senate for anticipated concurrence.

“This is about taking care of our children,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, flanked by fellow House Democratic leaders, told reporters. “We hope to get a big enough vote to make this truly the ‘Children’s Congress.”‘

Like the measure vetoed by Bush last week, the new one would increase the number of children from low-income and middle-income families covered by the State Children’s Health Insurance Program to 10 million from the current 6.6 million.

And it would again do so by boosting spending for the politically popular federal program by $35 billion over five years to $60 billion, funded with an increase in the federal tobacco tax.

The federal initiative aims to help families of children unable to afford private insurance, but who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, the federal health insurance program for the poor.

Changes to legislation to expand the program are aimed at addressing concerns voiced by Republicans in an effort to get them to support it this time around.

Under the retooled version, Democrats attempt to allay claims that the expanded health care would benefit illegal aliens. While the vetoed bill did not allow the program to cover illegals, the new version requires more rigorous background checks.

In addition, the bill states that despite claims to the contrary, coverage would not be offered to children of families with incomes over three times the federal poverty rate.

It also declares benefits to childless adults, now permitted in some states, will be phased out within a year.

The bill could face another veto by Bush, who has denounced the price tag as excessive. During nearly seven years in office, he has voiced opposition to all tax increases.

House Democrats, joined by dozens of Republicans, voted 273 to 156 to override Bush’s veto last week, falling 13 short of the needed two-thirds majority.

“We are hopeful that this time we will have the votes,” a Democratic leadership aide said.

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