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The House ignored a veto threat Thursday and tentatively approved an ambitious Democratic plan aimed at helping families find and afford day care for their children.

The House approved the plan on a largely party line vote, 263-158, after voting more narrowly to reject a conservative alternative that President Bush had endorsed.North Carolina's House delegation split along party lines, with Republicans, including Howard Coble of Greensboro, voting against the Democratic plan and Democrats, including Stephen Neal of Winston-Salem and David Price of Chapel Hill, voting for it. Rep. Walter Jones, D-Farmville, did not vote.

The House also turned back amendments aimed at limiting federal aid for church-run day care centers.

The bill, which still must go to a conference to resolve differences with the Senate, would expand tax credits for working poor families to offset day-care expenses.

It would create a system of state-issued subsidy vouchers for parents who want to use religious day-care centers and would expand the Head Start program for poor children.

It also would establish minimum standards for day care centers and provide money for a new program of day care based in public schools.

The vote came after eight hours of sometimes emotional debate that masked the fact that there was actually bipartisan agreement on major portions of the competing versions.

``What we're talking about here may be the most important issue we're going to deal with this year,' said Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo. ``The world has changed. Families need and want child care.'Just hours before the vote, presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Bush would veto the Democratic version if enacted. The White House's budget office issued a statement calling the Democratic version ``an exercise in fiscal irresponsibility.'

Just hours before the vote, presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Bush would veto the Democratic version if enacted. The White House's budget office issued a statement calling the Democratic version "an exercise in fiscal irresponsibility." ``This bill does not pay as you go; it spends as they went,' said Rep. Bill Frenzel, R-Minn. ``What a weird, tortured way of taking care of children - by giving them an IOU for $30 billion.'

Fourteen Democratic governors and one Republican, Gov. John R. McKernan Jr. of Maine, signed a letter to House Speaker Thomas Foley endorsing the leadership's version of the child-care bill and opposing a proposed conservative alternative.

The alternative was sponsored by Reps. Charles Stenholm, D-Texas, and Clay Shaw, R-Fla., and was defeated on a 225-195 vote, which also closely followed party lines.

The House defeated on a 243-182 vote a Democratic amendment that would have made the voucher system optional for states.

Republicans attacked the Democratic version because it instructs states to set minimum standards for day-care centers, including a requirement that day-care workers receive 15 hours of training a year.

Rep. Thomas Tauke, R-Iowa, charged the regulatory requirements ``reduce the choices available to parents' and harm church-run centers.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said Congress has passed regulations for the handling of farm animals and should do no less for children.

``This is not a philosophical argument,' Miller said. ``This is an attack on America's children and quality child care.'

The cause of child care has been embraced by both political parties, with Bush supporting some form of increased assistance to parents during his 1988 presidential campaign. But the bills bogged down in Congress this past year amid partisan and internal disputes.

The Senate approved its version of a child-care bill this past year, when the House approved conflicting versions. The latest House action was an effort to reach a new position going into a conference with the Senate, where a final version will be forged.

``The conference report will reflect a broad, multifaceted approach to child care which, I believe, the president will sign,' said Foley, D-Wash.

A principal difference between the two versions centered on school-based day care. The Democrats would provide federal funds for school systems to set up programs of year-round, before- and after-school care and preschool care for 3- and 4-year-olds based in the public schools.

The Democrats' version gives conservatives much of what they wanted on the issue of religious care. It requires states to provide subsidy vouchers to families that want them for use in sectarian day-care centers, including those that offer religious instruction and discriminate based on church membership or tenets.

Both child-care packages would be financed in part by ending the existing dependent care tax credit for upper-income families. That credit would be reduced for families earning $70,000 a year and eliminated for those earning more than $90,000.

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