House Democrats rallied late Sunday night to pass President Obama’s landmark health care overhaul plan and send to the president’s desk the politically risky initiative, which Republicans vow to wield against the Democrats in November’s mid-term elections.
A companion package of repairs to the bill now heads to a Senate fight. But regardless of the outcome there, Mr. Obama’s yearlong struggle for his signature initiative is just a stroke of his pen away from becoming law.
The Senate’s health care bill squeaked through the House in a 219-212 vote, with 34 Democrats joining all 178 Republicans in opposition after a last-minute White House executive order convinced a small group of pro-life Democrats that the bill wouldn’t fund abortions. The companion “fixes” bill passed 220 to 211, with 33 Democrats joining all 178 Republicans in opposition.
Democrats hailed the vote as one of the most significant change in American social policy since the creation of Medicare in 1965 or Social Security in 1935.
“This is an American proposal that honors the traditions of our country,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, adding that access to health care is in the same league as the Declaration of Independence’s claims about the inalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
The 10-year, $940 billion overhaul plan aims to reshape the nation’s health system by imposing new reforms on the insurance industry and guaranteeing insurance coverage to nearly all Americans with hopes of reducing health care costs and the federal deficit.
“This is what change looks like,” Mr. Obama said at the White House shortly after the vote, which he watched in the Roosevelt Room with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Outside the Capitol, a few hundred protesters shouted “Kill the bill.” Walking from a House office building to the Capitol on Sunday afternoon, Mrs. Pelosi linked arms with Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who walked in the civil rights marches in Selma, Ala., in the 1960s and who said he was called a racial epithet by health care protesters on Saturday.
Republicans called it an isolated incident and maintained their opposition to the health reform plan.
They argue that cuts to Medicare would undoubtedly hurt seniors’ coverage, that insurance premiums for all Americans would spike, and that Democrats won’t be able to make good on Mr. Obama’s often-repeated promise that “if you like your plan, you can keep it.”
“The decisions we make will affect every man, woman and child in this nation for generations to come,” Minority Leader John A. Boehner said. “This bill is not what the American people need.”
Mr. Boehner and Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, separately promised to introduce legislation to try to repeal the plan.
Mr. Obama, in his pitch to Democrats on Capitol Hill in recent weeks, said that much of his presidency is on the line with passage of his overhaul plan. It marks the most significant legislative accomplish of his presidency.
But it would be a victory with a large asterisk. The Senate promised House members that it will be able to pass a companion bill to “repair” controversial provisions in the bill, such as a tax on high-cost insurance plans and state-specific deals that critics say were meant to buy votes.
Mr. Obama could sign the Senate bill into law immediately. But doing so without the Senate repair bill would likely anger House members.