House approves children’s health bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to expand a popular children’s health program and increase cigarette taxes to pay for it, giving President-elect Barack Obama a jump start on a campaign promise to insure more Americans.

A majority in the Democratic-led House voted for the bill. The measure is similar to legislation twice vetoed by President George W. Bush, who opposed raising tobacco taxes and argued that expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan would push children into government-run health care instead of private plans.

The bill passed by the House bill aims to enroll 11 million children into the program, compared to about 6.7 million currently, and pay for it by raising the cigarette tax to $1 a pack from 39 cents. Taxes on cigars and other tobacco products also would rise.

The Senate is expected to move swiftly on its version of the legislation and Obama, who takes office on Tuesday, backs expanding the program. The legislation would be an early victory on his promise to make health insurance more available to all Americans.

(Reporting by Donna Smith, editing by David Alexander)

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