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But Democratic leaders say the change would save the federal government significant amounts of cash because birth control is much less expensive than having a child. An analysis of the bill by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said expanding family planning services as called for in the bill could save the federal government $160 million over a decade.

Child health care pushed

The Senate is expected to pass legislation this week to expand a popular health care program for uninsured children, giving President Obama a high-profile down payment on his promise of universal health care coverage.

Democrats had hoped to send the measure to the president’s desk already, but work on the economic stimulus package, Cabinet appointments and Republican opposition to some components of the bill delayed a full Senate vote for several days.

The Democrat-crafted $31.5 billion proposal to expand the State Children’s Heath Insurance Program, or SCHIP, would add about 4 million children to the 7 million already covered in the program. The measure would extend funding to the program - set to expire at the end of March - for another 4 1/2 years.

The House passed a similar bill earlier this month, and Mr. Obama has said he will sign the measure. Both versions would be paid for with a 61-cent tax on a pack of cigarettes.

Attempts in 2007 to expand SCHIP received considerable support from Republicans in both Houses. But minority party members are upset that the latest version calls for loosening citizenship and eligibility documentation requirements, which they say could lead to illegal immigrants gaining access to the program.

Some Republicans also aren’t happy the measure would remove a five-year waiting period to enter the program for new, legal immigrants.

But with Democrats holding a 57-41 voting edge in the Senate, the measure is expected to pass despite Republican concerns.

Sean Lengell can be reached at