- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 24, 2010

At the White House on Tuesday, jubilant Democrats whooped for a presidential signing, while at the Senate, morose Republicans spent the day whining.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., as he is wont to do, summed it up best with a whisper into his boss’s ear: “This is a big … deal.” (The official White House transcript, not surprisingly, left out the profane aside caught on an open mic.)

President Obama played host in the East Room to a band of merry Democrats, the morning celebration over the purely partisan health care reform bill made more festive by the absence of Republicans - not one stood among the hundreds packed into the ornate room.

The revelers were giddy with delight. Many snapped shots of colleagues on their cell phones - Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, whose support for the Senate bill could well cost her re-election, smiled broadly as she clicked a picture on an iPhone.

Backs were patted enthusiastically; hands were slapped in high-fives. Men in their 60s, clad in dark suits, their hair white with age, clasped each other in bro hugs, lingering in long embraces.

House and Senate Democrats cheered throughout the president’s half-hour victory lap, standing in applause dozens of times. For his part, Mr. Obama, elected after promising to be a “post-partisan” president, took quite a few unsmiling swipes at his Republican critics.

He called opposition to the $1 trillion program “overheated rhetoric” and “cynicism,” lamenting “all the punditry, all the lobbying, all the game-playing that passes for governing here in Washington.” (At a second event to celebrate, he openly criticized Republicans for “still making a lot of noise about what this reform means.”)

But for Democrats, the president offered only praise - even though 34 party members in the House voted against the bill. (Oddly, the nearly three dozen Democrats could have found seating in a couple of empty rows in the back of the East Room, eventually filled by low-level staffers.)

Mr. Obama called the Sunday vote to pass the health care reform bill “a testament to the historic leadership - and uncommon courage - of the men and women of the United States Congress, who’ve taken their lumps during this difficult debate.”

Amid the laughter, one House member yelled out: “Yes, we did!”

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Republicans were plotting a strategy to thwart the bill signed into law Tuesday by Mr. Obama. Republican Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell fired out of the blocks, offering for consideration S. 3152, a Senate bill “to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”

“Most Americans out there aren’t celebrating today,” he said. “With all due respect, you don’t pass a bill the American people didn’t want, then try to sell them on it. You win their support first, then pass it, on a bipartisan basis, just as we’ve done on every other piece of major social legislation we’ve passed over the past 45 years. …

“So Democrats here in Washington can celebrate all they want. But that celebration is going to be short-lived. The American people aren’t fooled,” a dour Mr. McConnell said.

The Senate immediately launched into 20 hours of debate on a companion measure that makes changes to the main health care reform bill - a pre-condition demanded by some House Democrats in exchange for their “yes” votes. Republicans, by all reports, are prepared to offer dozens - perhaps hundreds - of amendments to change the main bill.

Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican defeated by President Obama in 2008, offered an amendment to strip out of the new law special provisions - “egregious sweetheart deals,” the senator called them - inserted to win support from wavering Democrats. But he lamented the futility of the effort.

“We’re not going to find out what’s in this 2,733-page bill for a long time,” he said.

Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire also offered an amendment, one that would require that all Medicare savings be plowed back into the failing program. He said Medicare will be cut by more than half a trillion dollars to pay for the new program.

But Sen. Max Baucus, the lone Democrat on the floor, made clear the idea was dead on arrival. “That’s a bill killer,” the Montana Democrat said.

In a refrain expected over and over in the coming days, he added that the health care reform bill has “already passed - it’s irrelevant.”

Joseph Curl can be reached at [email protected]

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