Senate OKs Children's Health Insurance

The Senate last night passed a bill to renew and expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, known as S-CHIP. It got 68 votes — more than enough to override a threatened veto from President Bush.

But there are other hurdles to overcome before the bill becomes law.

The first obstacle to the renewal is merging the Senate's bill with a very different version passed by the House of Representatives. But time is short for Congress to act: The S-CHIP program expires at the end of September.

In an effort to help more families like the Burgitts, a bipartisan group of Senators that included West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller spent months creating a bill that would add $35 billion to the program over the next five years. It would be funded by a 61-cent-per-pack increase in the federal cigarette tax.

Over the course of the week, sponsors fended off both Republican amendments to scale the package back and Democratic amendments to make it larger.

Now senators will have to try to reconcile their more modest bill with a sprawling House bill that not only adds more money to the S-CHIP program, but also makes dramatic changes to the Medicare program.

President Bush says he'll accept no more than a five billion dollar increase for the S-CHIP program over the next five years. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt has said that the administration probably won't support a tax increase to fund that coverage.

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