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Children's Health Bill Approved By House

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), pointing to the cuts for Medicare managed-care plans, dashed off a letter to AARP, calling for the powerful seniors lobby to retract its endorsement and halt its full-throttle campaign for the bill's passage.

But John Rother, AARP's policy director, responded that funding for Medicare physician reimbursements and free medical screenings more than makes up for any difficulties managed-care companies might face when they get the same reimbursement rates as the core Medicare program.

The Senate measure, a $35 billion expansion of the program over five years, would continue coverage for about 1 million children who might otherwise be dropped and add 3 million youngsters.

By forgoing the physician reimbursement issue and rural health-care funding, senators could pay for its bill with a 61-cent increase in the federal tobacco tax while avoiding any Medicare cuts. That has given the Senate bill broad, bipartisan support, but House Democratic leaders say the advocacy of Hatch and several other conservatives will give their members ample political cover when negotiators try to reconcile the House and Senate versions.

Hatch and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said yesterday that the House-Senate negotiations will aim to keep the final measure within the scope of the Senate bill, in hopes of avoiding a veto.

"Personally, I believe if we can get enough votes, the president doesn't want to veto this," Hatch said.

House Republican leaders believe they have turned the issue against the Democrats. Earlier this week, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), the House Democratic Caucus chairman, huddled with his caucus behind closed doors to soothe frayed nerves. His tool was an advertisement that Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Tex.) depended on to win reelection in 2004, when an unprecedented redistricting in his state had made his electorate strongly Republican.

"I don't want welfare. I just want to get insurance for my child," Jenny Jones, 28, said in the advertisement, after explaining that her husband had been killed two years before in a house fire, leaving her 3-year-old daughter, Bailey, dependent on the Children's Health Insurance Program. "Look at my little girl, look into her eyes and tell her she's not good enough to be taken care of."

Of the half-dozen Democrats targeted by Republican-controlled redistricting in Texas, only Edwards survived. "What trumps everything is 11 million children with health care and the AARP endorsement," Emanuel said.

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