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    Congress Set to Renew SCHIP Bill

    New provisions are added to the bill, which would be financed by increasing taxes on tobacco.

    WASHINGTON -- Congress will give President-elect Barack Obama a head start on making one of his campaign platform issues a reality by passing a bill to provide health insurance to millions of low-income children under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), The New York Times reported.

    The bill, scheduled for a vote in the House this week, is "very much like" legislation twice vetoed by President George W. Bush in 2007, according to House Democratic leader, Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland. The new bills in the House and Senate, like those vetoed, would be financed by tobacco taxes, including a 61-cent federal cigarette excise tax increase, to $1 a pack.

    The current bill would need to be passed by March 31, which is the date the program’s extension is set to expire. The extension was issued after President Bush’s second veto.

    However, Congressional Democrats told the Times they decided to add a major provision allowing states to restore health insurance benefits to legal immigrants under 21, which has been a goal of Hispanic groups since those benefits were terminated in 1996, the report stated.

    Supporters of the bill said it would cover 10 million children, providing benefits for an additional nearly 4 million uninsured children, and continuing coverage for 6.6 million children already enrolled. The program costs the federal government more than $5 billion annually, and published reports estimate that the expansion would more than double that cost.

    While House Democrats are taking the bill directly to the floor, Democratic leaders in the Senate plan to work through the Finance Committee, led by Democratic Senator Max Baucus of Montana, who has drafted a bill similar to the House measure, though as of late Monday, his proposal did not include benefits for immigrants, the Times reported.

    CSNews’s Mehgan Belanger speaks out about kids vs. smokes on today’s Spare Change blog. Click here to read more, and post your thoughts.

    In other political news, Georgia-based RaceTrac Petroleum recently gave a helping hand to the Blue Eagles, a 95-member marching band from South Cobb High School in Austell, Ga., to realize their dream: to march in the inaugural parade for Obama, according to a report in The New York Times.

    RaceTrac will pay for the fuel for the trip to the nation’s capitol, and donated at least 1,800 meals for band members to eat during long rehearsals.

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