WASHINGTON (CN) – Democratic lawmakers hugged and danced when the House narrowly passed a monumental health bill late Sunday night in a 219-212 vote, chanting “Yes we can” in front of their frowning Republican colleagues. The historic legislation now goes to President Obama for his signature. “It is so profound to be part of a movement when we move our country into the 21st century,” Ohio Democrat Marcy Kaptur said.
But before the vote was taken, Florida Republican Connie Mac said, “Let’s see who’s still here after the American people speak in November.”
The passage concludes a year of emotional debate and is a triumph for Obama, who staked his first year largely on health reform.
All Republicans opposed the bill and they were joined by 34 Democrats. The tally was three votes more than the 216 required for passage.
The bill is the version originally approved by the Senate. Senate rules don’t allow for it to consider reconciliation for a bill that has not been passed, so the vote seen Sunday demonstrates a leap of faith by House members, who will now learn whether the senators will pass the reconciliation measures that the House proposes or whether senators will keep the version they originally approved.
Democrats pointed to the cuts in the deficit, the coverage of the extra Americans and the minimum standards for insurance plans in supporting the bill. They said that 45,000 Americans die every year due to lack of insurance.
“Imagine a society where a person can change jobs without losing health insurance,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the floor, referencing the rules baring insurance companies from denying coverage based on a pre-existing condition.
Republicans said Americans are against the bill and called it unconstitutional because it forces Americans to buy insurance. They said that Obama’s executive order won’t work, labeling supporters of the bill as pro-choice. They also criticized the special deals cut in pushing the health bill through – noting that Florida elders will be the only ones allowed to keep their Medicare advantage plans.
They also said Democrats had been deceitful, saying the bill would raise taxes for 10 years but only serve health care for six. And they noted that it omits a costly increase in doctors’ fees until a later bill, that the Congressional Budget Office does not measure the increased costs states will face under the bill, and that the real numbers show that the bill will grow the deficit.
“This bill is the mother of unfunded mandates,” Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan said. “We can do better,” he said, in urging the House to start over on a new bill.
But New York Democrat Louise Slaughter said Republicans don’t genuinely want reform. “They just want to make reform go away,” she said. And Texas Democrat Doug Miller said, “their true answer to health reform is ‘never, never, never.'”
Democrats and Republicans often fought over floor rules. Democrats rejected a Republican request to allow one-minute statements to go unlimited.
The floor arguments were interrupted by two visitors. “The people said ‘no'” yelled one man before he was quickly removed by police. Then another man stood up taking his turn. “Why don’t you uphold the oath that you took?” he asked in apparent reference to a pledge to uphold the Constitution. Police were slower to haul him off, so another visitor shoved him forcefully out the door.
Minnesota Democrat Bart Stupak and other pro-life Democrats announced their support only after President Obama pledged to issue an executive order to uphold current law stating that federal funds don’t go to abortions. Their backing came just hours before the vote.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared busy throughout the day, only making brief appearances on the floor in her lavender suit. One aid came running to her with a phone and she took the call, quickly leaving the floor.
Roughly 500 protesters gathered outside the House side of the Capitol, breaking into cheers and applause whenever Republican lawmakers appeared on a balcony to wave and encourage them. “The People Say No,” read one sign. “Obama- Communism You Can Believe In,” read another. And yellow Gadsden flags featuring a rattlesnake, recently adopted by the Tea Party movement, dotted the crowd.
A smaller band could be seen to the side carrying supportive signs. “For Health Care Reform,” read one. “Vote for Americans, Not the Insurance Industry,” read another.
The bill would raise taxes by $940 billion over a decade to extend Medicaid to 32 million uninsured Americans and reduce the deficit by $130 billion. Over the course of two decades, it would reduce the deficit by $1.3 trillion.
It would also stop insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, block them from dropping people once they get sick, require free preventative care, and end lifetime and annual limits on coverage.
The bill would allow those 26 and younger to stay on their parents’ insurance plans, a provision that was raucously applauded by the collegiate audience.
Thirty eight states have signaled that they would join a challenge questioning the constitutionality of the bill.
Pelosi said the by approving the bill, “we make history for our country and progress for the American people.”