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“If you asked me for the most efficient use of a single healthcare dollar, I would put it toward covering more children,” the Maryland Democrat said.

But House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said that the money authorized in the legislation will be well-spent.

“If you asked me for the most efficient use of a single healthcare dollar, I would put it toward covering more children,” the Maryland Democrat said.

Congress’ decision to expand SCHIP also was applauded by many health-care, social-welfare and union groups.

“This vote underscores the importance of having the grass-roots voice heard in the halls of Congress, said Gabe Gonzalez, director of the Campaign for Community Values, an advocacy group for low-income Americans. “This didnt just happen. It was a monumental effort by thousands of community leaders making calls, writing letters and e-mails, and dropping in on their representatives.”

Karen Ignagni, president and chief executive of Americas Health Insurance Plans, the nation’s largest health insurance lobbying group, said expanding SCHIP is a big first step toward ensuring that all Americans have affordable, quality health care.

“This vital legislation provides health security for millions of children in working families and builds momentum for comprehensive health-care reform,” she said.

Wednesday’s White House bill signing gives Mr. Obama a welcomed reprieve from a difficult week in which two of his appointees embarrassingly withdrew from consideration because of tax problems.

On Tuesday, former Sen. Tom Daschle dropped out as the Health and Human Services secretary nominee, and Nancy Killefer removed herself from the nomination to be chief performance officer.