S-CHIP CLEARS SENATE…. It’s long overdue, and it was vetoed twice by former President Bush, but we’re finally poised to expand healthcare for low-income children.

The Senate passed a bill on Thursday to provide health insurance to more than four million uninsured children, as a newly empowered Democratic majority brushed aside Republican objections.

The vote was 66 to 32, with nine Republicans joining Democrats to support the bill. […]

The Senate debate showed the outlines of what promises to be a much larger political fight over universal coverage. While Democrats championed expansion of the child health program, many Republicans, including Senator John McCain of Arizona, said they worried that it was part of a long-term effort to replace private health insurance with government programs.

The House passed a nearly identical bill two weeks ago, by a vote of 289 to 139, with 40 Republicans joining nearly all Democrats in support of the measure. […]

The Congressional Budget Office said the bill would enable states to cover more than four million uninsured children by 2013, while continuing coverage for seven million youngsters.

To pay for the expansion, which is expected to cost about $32 billion over four and a half years, Congress is raising cigarette taxes to $1 a pack.

The final roll-call is online. Note that 32 of the Senate’s 41 Republicans opposed the measure.

Just to add some historical context, it’s worth remembering that S-CHIP was created under a Republican Congress 12 years ago. It’s enjoyed broad support, and should have been approved without any real controversy. I recall a Washington Post report from July 2007 that noted, “If anything looked like a sure thing in the new Congress, it was that lawmakers would renew, and probably expand, the popular, decade-old State Children’s Health Insurance Program before it expires this year.” It was a no-brainer — who was going to balk at an established, successful program that offers health insurance for kids? Especially on a bill that enjoys support from governors in both parties, the medical community, and children’s advocates?

And yet, the legislation nevertheless sparked a two-year conflict.

The House and Senate versions differ slightly, but the bill should be on Obama’s desk by early next week.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) concluded, “It’s my sincere hope that passage of this legislation will be the beginning of a major overhaul of American health care, which ultimately will provide coverage to all Americans.”

That’d be nice.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.