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House passes landmark healthcare reform bill

Video by Jonathan CRANE

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-03-22

The US House of Representatives has passed President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare reform bill, paving the way for the realisation of a key component of his domestic policy agenda.

The US House of Representatives gave final approval to a sweeping healthcare overhaul – the biggest in decades – late Sunday, handing President Barack Obama a landmark victory for the most important item on his domestic agenda.

After months of breakthroughs, setbacks, backroom deals, and often ferocious partisan squabbling, House Democrats approved the healthcare bill by a narrow, late-night 219-212 vote. Every Republican representative opposed the bill, and 34 Democrats joined them in voting against it.

The historic bill extends coverage to 32 million Americans who currently have none, bringing the world's richest country closer than ever to guaranteeing health insurance for all its citizens. It will also end abusive insurance company practices and curb soaring costs, creating new insurance marketplaces and requiring most Americans to carry insurance, while offering subsidies to many.

The vote is a major win for Obama, who postponed a scheduled tour of Asian nations to lead a final push to convince hesitant Democrats.

“Tonight, at a time when the pundits said it was no longer possible, we rose above the weight of our politics” Obama said in brief remarks shortly after the vote. “We did not avoid our responsibility, we embraced it. We did not fear our future, we shaped it”, he declared, adding that “This legislation will not fix everything that ails our healthcare system, but it moves us decisively in the right direction.”

Obama is expected to sign the legislation into law shortly.

Shouts of joy, chants of ‘kill the bill’

Highlights of Democrats’ new healthcare reform

 - Insurers cannot deny patients coverage for pre-existing conditions or charge higher premiums due to gender or medical history.

- Insurance exchanges to be created to help small businesses and the unemployed buy less expensive coverage.

- Individuals without coverage would face a fine, with the exception of poorer Americans.

- Subsidies for families earning less than $88,000 annually.

- Surtax on people earning more than $200,000 annually.

- States could choose whether to ban abortion coverage in plans offered in insurance exchanges.

- No public option.

The House erupted in cheers Sunday night as Democrats reached the 216 votes needed to pass the measure as exuberant Democrats hugged and chanted, “Yes we can” – Obama’s memorial 2008 campaign slogan.

The Republican response was swift and strong. "We have failed to listen to America," said Republican party leader John Boehner in his response to the bill’s passage. Outside the building, opponents held a vigil, chanting "kill the bill".

Sunday’s vote came hours after Obama and House Democratic leaders struck a last-minute deal with anti-abortion Democrats to secure the final few votes needed to pass the legislation.

The last-minute scramble for votes

The vote followed months of political manoeuvring and brow-beating by Democratic leaders since Obama took office in January 2009.

Earlier this year, healthcare reform seemed on the brink of historic passage: the two chambers of US Congress – Senate and House of Representatives – were working to merge the respective bills they had already passed ahead of one last vote by both chambers that would send a final, combined text to Obama’s desk for signature. But a Republican upset in the Massachusetts election to fill late Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy’s vacant seat left Senate Democrats one vote shy of the votes needed to send the bill directly to Obama without Republican obstruction.

The healthcare battle in Congress
With the Senate unable to deliver the votes in favour of a comprehensive healthcare bill, Democrats were forced to opt for a risky political manoeuvre to secure their narrow victory: on Sunday, the House of Representatives passed both the Senate version of the reform and a package of “fixes” to make the bill more to the House’s liking. Obama will now be able to sign the Senate version of the reform into law, since it has been approved by both Congressional chambers.

Republicans blasted the plan from the start, painting it as a financially irresponsible Democrat attempt at a government takeover of healthcare. Vocal opposition from Congressional Republicans and continuous attacks from high-profile conservatives like Sarah Palin seriously damaged the popularity of the reform, which according to several polls sits below 50%.

Obama’s efforts to reassure deficit-minded Democrats were boosted by the latest figures from the independent Congressional Budget Office, which showed that the bill would cut the US budget deficit by $138 billion over 10 years and 1.2 trillion the following decade.

Date created : 2010-03-22

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