Late last night the U.S. House narrowly approved its version of the health care reform bill by a vote of 220-215. Only one Republican, first termer Rep. Joseph Cao (LA), voted yes and 39 Democrats voted no. Roll call here.
A triumphant Speaker Nancy Pelosi likened the legislation to the passage of Social Security in 1935 and Medicare 30 years later. “Oh, what a night!” she proclaimed at the beginning of a press conference held after the vote. Obama issued a statement saying, “I look forward to signing it into law by the end of the year.”
“It provides coverage for 96 percent of Americans. It offers everyone, regardless of health or income, the peace of mind that comes from knowing they will have access to affordable health care when they need it,” said Rep. John Dingell, the 83-year-old Michigan lawmaker who has introduced national health insurance in every Congress since succeeding his father in 1955.
In the run-up to a final vote, conservatives from the two political parties joined forces to impose tough new restrictions on abortion coverage in insurance policies to be sold to many individuals and small groups. They prevailed on a roll call of 240-194. Ironically, that only solidified support for the legislation, clearing the way for conservative Democrats to vote for it.
The legislation would require most Americans to carry insurance and provide federal subsidies to those who otherwise could not afford it. Large companies would have to offer coverage to their employees. Both consumers and companies would be slapped with penalties if they defied the government’s mandates.
President Obama is predicting that the Senate will pass the bill too, but Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) calls the House’s bill “dead on arrival.”
The president, in brief remarks from the Rose Garden in Washington, said the 220-215 House vote brings the country closer than it’s ever been to a health care overhaul. Obama said the “historic” passage marked a “courageous vote” for many representatives, given the toxicity of the debate surrounding the bill, and predicted that lawmakers will view the eventual signing of the legislation as their “finest moment” in public service. “Now it falls on the United States Senate to take the baton and bring this effort to the finish line on behalf of the American people,” Obama said. “And I’m absolutely confident that they will.”
But key senators suggested such optimism could be premature, with Republicans enjoying stronger numbers in the Senate and important differences between the House and Senate legislation still unresolved. “The House bill is dead on arrival in the Senate,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” noting that 39 Democrats “bailed out” on the bill Saturday night. “It was a bill written by liberals for liberals. … So the House bill is a non-starter in the Senate.” The Senate is not considering the House bill at the moment. The chamber has its own version of the legislation, which includes a different version of a government-backed health insurance plan, or “public option,” and different funding mechanisms. But the differences between the two bills would have to be reconciled should the Senate approve its proposal.