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 frowning Republicans. 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.
Before the vote was taken, Florida Republican Connie Mack 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.
“We did not avoid our responsibility, we embraced it,” Obama said just after the bill was passed. “We proved that this government still works for the people.” He plans to sign the bill on Tuesday.
All Republicans opposed the bill; they were joined by 34 Democrats. The tally was 3 votes more than the 216 required for passage.
The bill is the version originally approved by the Senate. Senate rules do not allow for it to consider reconciliation for a bill that has not been passed, so the Sunday vote demonstrates a leap of faith by House members, who now will learn whether the senators will pass the package of changes that the House approved 220-211 after clearing the bill, or whether the Senate will keep the version it approved.
Democrats pointed to cuts in the deficit, coverage for extra Americans and 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 said, refererring to rules barring insurance companies from denying coverage based on a pre-existing condition.
Republicans said Americans oppose the bill and called it unconstitutional because it forces Americans to buy insurance. They said Obama’s executive order won’t work, and called supporters of the bill 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, and that the bill will raise taxes for 10 years but serve health care only for six. And they said it omits a costly increase in doctors’ fees until a later bill, and 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 increase the deficit.
“This bill is the mother of unfunded mandates,” Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan said. “We can do better,” he said, urging the House to start over on a new bill.
But New York Democrat Louise Slaughter said Republicans don’t want reform. “They just want to make reform go away,” she said.
Texas Democrat Doug Miller added, “Their true answer to health reform is ‘Never, never, never.'”
Democrats and Republicans often fought over floor rules. Democrats rejected a Republican request to remove the time limit on one-minute statements.
The floor arguments were interrupted by two visitors. “The people said, ‘No,'” yelled one man before he was removed by police. Then another man stood up. “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 out the door.
Minnesota Democrat Bart Stupak and other pro-life Democrats announced their support 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, making only brief appearances on the floor. One aide 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,” one sign said. “Obama – Communism You Can Believe In,” another stated. Yellow Gadsden flags featuring a rattlesnake, recently adopted by the Tea Party movement, dotted the crowd.
A smaller band stood to one side, carrying supportive signs. “For Health Care Reform,” one said. “Vote for Americans, Not the Insurance Industry,” said another.
The bill would raise taxes by $940 billion over a decade to extend Medicaid and offer subsidies to help insure 32 million Americans. During the first 10 years, it would reduce the deficit by $130 billion and over the course of two decades, it would reduce the deficit by $1.3 trillion.
It would stop insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, block them from dropping people once they get sick, require free preventtive care, and end lifetime and annual limits on coverage.
And the bill would allow people 26 and younger to stay on their parents’ insurance plans.
Thirty-eight states have signaled that they would join a challenge questioning the constitutionality of the bill.
Pelosi said that by approving the bill, “We make history for our country and progress for the American people.”