The House has opened debate on a bill to increase spending on children's health insurance as Democrats try to give President-elect Barack Obama an early win on health care.
The bill includes an additional $33 billion for the State Children's Health Insurance Program over the next 4 1/2 years. The federal excise tax on a pack of cigarettes will increase 61 cents to pay for the program's expansion.
Democratic lawmakers say that with the struggling economy, it's more important than ever to cover children's health care.
Legislation to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program was vetoed twice by President George W. Bush in 2007. This time, supporters are confident that a deal can be struck and the bill passed shortly after Obama's inauguration.
The measure includes a provision that would expand coverage to children of legal immigrants as well as pregnant immigrants.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)