The House of Representatives [yesterday] approved a major expansion of federally funded health coverage for children, kicking off what Democrats hope will be a historic legislative campaign this year to overhaul the nation's healthcare system.
The legislation -- which passed on a largely party-line 289-139 vote -- would commit about $33 billion over the next 4 1/2 years to the popular State Children's Health Insurance Program.
It would cover an additional 4 million children, nearly cutting in half the number of children in America without insurance, a top priority of Democrats since the party took control of Congress two years ago.
The Senate, where senior lawmakers are working on their own version of the bill, is expected to back the expansion soon.
President-elect Barack Obama has indicated he will sign the measure -- funded primarily by a 61-cent increase in the federal tax on a pack of cigarettes.
"This is a new day in Washington," Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), a leading champion of the bill, said on the House floor today.
"Soon we will have a new president who has committed himself to reforming our nation's healthcare system so every American can access affordable and quality healthcare. The bill . . . makes a down payment on that promise."