updated 1/14/2009 3:22:38 PM ET 2009-01-14T20:22:38

The House voted Wednesday to expand government-sponsored health care to 4 million more children of working families, making a down payment on President-elect Obama's promise to provide universal health care to all Americans who want it.

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The bill, passed by an overwhelming 289 to 139 vote, would increase federal taxes on cigarettes by 61 cents to a dollar a pack to pay the $32.3 billion cost of expanding State Children's Health Insurance Program for the next 4 1/2 years. Departing President George W. Bush vetoed similar legislation twice in 2007

"Soon we will have a new president who has committed himself to reforming our nation's health care system so every American can access affordable and quality health care." said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J. "The bill we are considering today makes a down-payment on that promise."

About 7 million children from working families with too much income to qualify for Medicaid now get government-provided health care.

The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to begin writing a similar bill Thursday. Some Senate Republicans complain that the House bill expands coverage to include up to 600,000 non-citizen children of legal immigrants.

The cost of 40 days in Iraq
The Congressional Budget Office projected that nearly 83 percent of the 4.1 million uninsured children who would gain coverage if the bill becomes law are in families with incomes below current eligibility limits. About 700,000 children would gain coverage because their states broadened eligibility.

Republicans also noted that an estimated 2.4 million children currently with private coverage would end up in SCHIP. They also objected to the additional spending,

"The kids will have to pay through the nose for the things we are doing today," said Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind. "We don't have the money to do all these things."

"Forty days in Iraq equals over 10 million children in America insured for one year," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "We certainly can afford to do that."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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