US Congress defies Bush, approves kids' health bill

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WASHINGTON, Sep 28 (Reuters) Setting up a veto showdown with President George W Bush, the US Congress approved legislation to expand a popular children's health care program and pay for it with higher taxes on tobacco products.

The Senate backed the bipartisan bill on vote of 67-29.

Bush has vowed to veto it and the Democratic-led Congress lacks the votes to override him. The US House of Representatives earlier this week approved the bill on a 265-159 vote, falling well short short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto.

The bill would renew the childrens' health care program administered by the states and adds an extra 35 billion dollars to the current 25 billion dollars, five-year funding level. The program is set to expire on Sept. 30, but is to be given temporary money through mid-November.

The measure aims to insure more children in low-income families that cannot afford health insurance but earn too much to qualify for the government's Medicaid program for the poor and disabled.

Yesterday's vote sets the stage for Bush to wield his veto for the fourth time since moving into the White House in January 2001. The president twice rejected legislation on stem cell research. He also vetoed an Iraq war supplemental spending bill because it included timelines for withdrawing troops.

Bush said the children's health care bill goes too far in covering higher income families and would inject too much government into health care.

Sponsors of the bill, including Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, have said White House claims that the legislation would allow families earning as much as 83,000 dollars a year are not accurate. The legislation would not change current eligibility requirements and includes measures to discourage states from covering higher income families, they argue.

Backers said the bill would help provide health coverage for some 10 million children. The bill would also raise taxes on tobacco products to pay for the additional coverage. Taxes on a pack of cigarettes would rise by 61 cents to 1 dollar per pack.

Reuters KK VP0636

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