The US House of Representatives Wednesday set the stage for an early White House victory for incoming president Barack Obama, passing a bill extending health care to an extra four million children.
Obama, who has vowed to greatly expand health insurance to Americans, immediately welcomed the legislation, and called on the Senate to act fast so he could sign it into law soon after his inauguration on Tuesday.
The measure is a close copy of legislation twice vetoed by President George W. Bush, and marks the first attempt by Obama's Democrats to roll back the outgoing US leader's Republican agenda.
"In this moment of crisis, ensuring that every child in America has access to affordable health care is not just good economic policy, but a moral obligation we hold as parents and citizens," Obama said in a statement.
"That is why I'm so pleased that Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives came together to provide health insurance to over ten million children whose families have been hurt most by this downturn.
"This coverage is critical, it is fully paid for, and I hope that the Senate acts with the same sense of urgency so that it can be one of the first measures I sign into law when I am President."
The bill, which passed by 289 votes to 139 in the House, renews the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), preserving healthcare coverage for seven million children and extends it to four million who were uninsured.
It is paid for partly by raising the tax on tobacco by 61 cents to one dollar, among other measures, a move which the bill's advocates say will have the added benefit of discouraging more than a million children from taking up smoking.