Debate over more money for children's health insurance a campaign issue for next year

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The debate over expanding a popular health insurance program for children is likely to continue beyond this week and into next year's elections.

While the House voted 265-159 on Tuesday to add $35 billion over five years to the State Children's Health Insurance Program, the margin was not enough to override a veto. President Bush maintains that is too much money, that the expansion relies on an increase in the tobacco tax, and that it could lead to replacing private insurance with government grants.

The Senate is to take up the children's health bill this week. Although Senate Democrats and Republicans are expected to vote in sufficient numbers to thwart a veto, the bill still would be doomed because both chambers must have two-thirds majorities to overcome a presidential veto.

Democrats hope that the 151 House Republicans who voted against the bill will regret supporting Bush when Democratic opponents campaign on their effort to add 4 million children to SCHIP's rolls. Currently, the state-federal program provides coverage for 6.6 million children from families that live above the poverty level but have trouble affording private health insurance.

Forty-five GOP House members, many of them moderates who do not want to be depicted as indifferent to low-income children, supported the expansion.

Eight House Democrats opposed the bill. Some, from tobacco-growing districts, objected to raising the federal cigarette tax to $1 a pack, a 61-cent increase.

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