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Democrats on Hill aim to aid middle class

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On Friday, Rep. Charles Rangel (D) of New York, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, announced that his panel aims to eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax for all taxpayers. In the past, Democrats have urged maintaining the tax for the wealthiest Americans.

He says the committee will also draft legislation to expand the availability of the child-tax credit to lower-income families that do not now qualify. The fix could mean tens of billions to American families, increasingly those in the middle class, but it may not resonate politically, because these families aren't yet feeling the pinch, analysts say.

"You're giving them something that is worth a lot, but if you tell people you're going to do something that will leave them pretty much where they are today, it's not the same as helping somebody out of a hole," says Mr. Ornstein.

Another pending bill with a big payoff for middle class voters is an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The program was launched 10 years ago to benefit low-income working families who could not afford health coverage for children. But the bills that have cleared both the House and Senate would expand that coverage to 11 million children, up from about 6 million. President Bush has threatened to veto the bill.

A new census report on Aug. 28 shows that the number of uninsured children is rising and that 8.7 million children don't have health insurance.

With the program set to expire at the end of the month, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say there's pressure to break the deadlock.

Republicans say that the original SCHIP program aimed to help families who made a little too much money to be on Medicaid, but were still below 200 percent of the poverty level. But some states expanded the program to families earning much more.

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