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House Narrowly Passes Landmark Health Care Bill

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In a 220-215 vote, the landmark health care legislation passed the House Saturday night. In a 220-215 vote, the landmark health care legislation passed the House Saturday night.

Staff and Wire Reports

WASHINGTON -- In a victory for President Barack Obama, the Democratic-controlled House narrowly passed landmark health care legislation Saturday night to expand coverage to tens of millions who lack it and place tough new restrictions on the insurance industry. Republican opposition was nearly unanimous.

The 220-215 vote cleared the way for the Senate to begin debate on the issue that has come to overshadow all others in Congress.

A triumphant Speaker Nancy Pelosi likened the legislation to the passage of Social Security in 1935 and Medicare 30 years later.

"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.

Insurance industry practices such as denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions would be banned, and insurers would no longer be able to charge higher premiums on the basis of gender or medical history. In a further slap, the industry would lose its exemption from federal antitrust restrictions on price gouging, bid rigging and market allocation.

A cheer went up from the Democratic side of the House when the bill gained 218 votes, a majority. Moments later, Democrats counted down the final seconds of the voting period in unison, and let loose an even louder roar when Pelosi grabbed the gavel and declared, "the bill is passed.'

From the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada issued a statement saying, "We realize the strong will for reform that exists, and we are energized that we stand closer than ever to reforming our broken health insurance system."

The bill drew the votes of 219 Democrats and Rep. Joseph Cao, a first-term Republican who holds an overwhelmingly Democratic seat in New Orleans. Opposed were 176 Republicans and 39 Democrats.

Nearly unanimous in their opposition, minority Republicans cataloged their objections across hours of debate on the 1,990-page, $1.2 trillion legislation.

United in opposition, minority Republicans cataloged their objections across hours of debate on the 1,990-page, $1.2 trillion legislation.

"We are going to have a complete government takeover of our health care system faster than you can say, 'this is making me sick,'" jabbed Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., adding that Democrats were intent on passing "a jobs-killing, tax-hiking, deficit-exploding" bill.

But with little doubt about the outcome, the rhetoric lacked the fire of last summer's town hall meetings, when some critics accused Democrats of plotting "death panels" to hasten the demise of senior citizens.

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.

Insurance industry practices such as denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions would be banned, and insurers would no longer be able to charge higher premiums on the basis of gender or medical history. In a further slap, the industry would lose its exemption from federal antitrust restrictions on price gouging, bid rigging and market allocation.

At its core, the measure would create a federally regulated marketplace where consumers could shop for coverage. In the bill's most controversial provision, the government would sell insurance, although the Congressional Budget Office forecasts that premiums for it would be more expensive than for policies sold by private firms.

The bill is projected to expand coverage to 36 million uninsured, resulting in 96 percent of the nation's eligible population having insurance.

To pay for the expansion of coverage, the bill cuts Medicare's projected spending by more than $400 billion over a decade. It also imposes a tax surcharge of 5.4 percent on income over $500,000 in the case of individuals and $1 million for families.

The bill was estimated to reduce federal deficits by about $104 billion over a decade, although it lacked two of the key cost-cutting provisions under consideration in the Senate, and its longer-term impact on government red ink was far from clear.

Democrats lined up a range of outside groups behind their legislation, none more important than the AARP, whose support promises political cover against the cuts to Medicare in next year's congressional elections.

The nation's drug companies generally support health care overhaul. And while the powerful insurance industry opposed the legislation, it did so quietly, and the result was that Republicans could not count on the type of advertising campaign that might have peeled away skittish Democrats in swing districts.

Over all, the bill envisioned the most sweeping set of changes to the health care system in more than a generation, and Democrats said it marked the culmination of a campaign that Harry Truman began when he sat in the White House 60 years ago.

Debate on the House floor had already begun when Obama strode into a closed-door meeting of the Democratic rank and file across the street from the Capitol to make a final personal appeal to them to pass his top domestic priority.

Later, in an appearance at the White House, he said he had told lawmakers, "to rise to this moment. Answer the call of history, and vote yes for health insurance reform for America."

Participants also said Obama had referred to this week's shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, in which 13 people were killed. His remarks put in perspective that the hardships soldiers endure for the country are "what sacrifice really is," as opposed to "casting a vote that might lose an election for you," said Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J.

It appeared that a compromise brokered Friday night on the volatile issue of abortion had finally secured the votes needed to pass the legislation.

As drafted, the measure denied the use of federal subsidies to purchase abortion coverage in policies sold by private insurers in the new insurance exchange, except in cases of incest, rape or when the life of the mother was in danger.

But abortion foes won far stronger restrictions that would rule out abortion coverage except in those three categories in any government-sold plan. It would also ban abortion coverage in any private plan purchased by consumers receiving federal subsidies.

Disappointed Democratic abortion rights supporters grumbled about the turn of events, but pulled back quickly from any thought of opposing the health care bill in protest.

One, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., detailed numerous other benefits for women in the bill, including free medical preventive services and better prescription drug coverage under Medicare. "Women need health care reform," she concluded in remarks on the House floor.

A Republican alternative was rejected on a near party line vote of 258-176.

It relied heavily on loosening regulations on private insurers to reduce costs for those who currently have insurance, in some cases by as much as 10 percent. But congressional budget analysts said the plan would make no dent in the ranks of the uninsured, an assessment that highlighted the difference in priorities between the two political parties.

It was a theme of Obama's remarks to Democrats at midmorning.

The president said Democrats have a 70-year history of creating and defending programs like Social Security and Medicare, Andrews said afterward, adding Obama had said the day's vote "is going to define the difference between the Republican and Democratic parties for decades."

All five members of Oklahoma's Congressional Delegation voted against the bill.

  • U.S. Congressman Tom Cole issued the following statement regarding the health care bill's passing:

"The Oklahomans I represent oppose this bill because they know what it does and what it does not do," Congressman Cole said. "They understand that this bill will raise taxes, not lower them and that it will grow government, instead of shrinking it. They know that this legislation weakens Medicare, instead of strengthening it. And they understand that during a time when unemployment has reached 10.2%, we don't need a bill that destroys jobs. They understand that this bill will force state governments to cut services and raise taxes and it will put government bureaucrats rather than health care professionals in charge of their health care system."

"This bill does not include common sense health care reforms that Oklahomans do support - such as tort reform and the establishment of tax deductions for individual purchasers. My constituents want a plan that establishes national insurance markets and association health plans that would allow small businesses to provide affordable insurance to their employees. Oklahomans rightly believe the Pelosi health care bill is a giant step backwards and it's one that I don't support."

  • Representative Frank Lucas said he does not agree with a government run health care legislation:

"I am very discouraged by the House of Representative’s passage of Speaker Pelosi’s government run health care legislation," Lucas stated. "Over the last several months, millions of Americans have expressed their strong opposition to this legislation. Yet Speaker Pelosi and her leadership team have once again ignored the will of the people and forced this trillion dollar government takeover of our health care system on them.

"With the passage of this bill, the federal government will become the dominant force behind our health care system, putting bureaucrats in Washington between patients and their doctors. I will continue to oppose any health care plan that includes a government takeover of our health care system, that burdens our states with additional fees and bureaucracy, and that saddles our future generations with trillions of dollars of debt," Lucas stated.

  • Congressman John Sullivan issued the following statement on House passage of H.R. 3962:

“I’m personally disgusted with this entire process. Speaker Pelosi and her left wing allies in Congress resorted to twisting arms and backroom tactics to sell out the American people and put the federal government in charge of their personal healthcare decisions. This bill is bad for patients, bad for doctors, bad for small businesses and couldn’t have come at a worse time for our economy - as our national unemployment rate has reached a staggering 10.2%.

“The American people need to understand what took place here in the people’s house tonight- Speaker Pelosi and every democrat who voted for this government run healthcare system in the dead of night, completely ignored their voices. My Republican colleagues and I heard you loud and voted overwhelmingly against this bill.

“Let’s be very clear about what this bill does – it writes the American people a prescription for disaster by spending more, taxing more, and letting Washington bureaucrats make healthcare decisions that are better left to you and your families. It’s simply the wrong approach. I urge my Republican colleagues, and common sense Democrats, in the Senate, to vote NO and derail this freight rain of government expansion before it can become law.”

  • Congresswoman Mary Fallin issued the following statement:

“Last night, I voted ‘NO’ on the Obama/Pelosi health care bill.

"The plan is nothing less than a government takeover of the health care industry, complete with job-killing tax increases and the kind of budget-busting spending that will continue to heap debt onto generations of Americans to come. It is my sincere hope that continued activism by the American people and conservative, grass roots leaders will force the Democrat majorities in Washington to abandon their plan and start over.

"I am not opposed to all reform. In fact, should I have the honor of serving as your next governor, I am determined to pursue free market reforms that will reduce medical costs and improve access to quality, affordable care. However, a government-run health care system is not the answer. Speaker Pelosi and President Obama want to heap more bureaucracy onto the system, but the way to control costs and reduce price inflation is to peel back the layers of burdensome regulation and administrative overhead, not add more.

"What has been perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this health care debate is how out of touch it has revealed some of our political leaders to be. Oklahomans, and Americans everywhere, want the government to focus on job creation, growing our economy, and addressing the skyrocketing deficits that threaten this country's financial stability. Instead, Speaker Pelosi and President Obama have produced a 2,000 page bureaucratic nightmare that will increase taxes, spend more, and do nothing to alleviate the high cost of health care that is threatening family budgets and hurting small businesses.

"If the Speaker of the House and the President of the United States can't understand what Oklahomans want, we could sure use a governor that does. If I'm elected in 2010, we'll have that and more - because I will be the kind of leader who fights for our state, who fights for the cause of liberty and who pursues the kind of reforms that grow our economy, create more and better jobs and moves us towards a better, brighter future.”

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