WASHINGTON (CN) – In an historic and consequential vote, the House narrowly passed health reform 220 to 215 late Saturday that includes a provision largely barring federal funds for abortions. Democrats cheered when the tally hit 218, the minimum number needed to pass the bill. One Republican, Louisiana Rep. Anh Cao, contributed to the passage while 39 Democrats broke with party lines to vote against.
“Democrats voted for the bill and a Republican voted for the bill. That equals bipartisan,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said during remarks at a midnight press conference.
Marking the historic event, the same gavel used in passing Medicare legislation was used repeatedly Saturday in an attempt to establish order among bickering lawmakers as they debated the health bill now passed.
“Today’s vote will be the most important of our careers” California Democrat Pete Stark said, and Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee explained her reason why. “Eighteen thousand people die every year because they do not have health insurance,” she said during the day-long floor debate held before the final vote.
Texas Republican Pete Sessions expressed his opposing view, “I hate it and the American people hate it also,” he said.
New York Democrat Louise Slaughter replied that 68 percent of Americans want the bill, but did not cite the report.
Before health reform reaches President Barack Obama’s desk, the Senate must also pass a health bill, which the chamber is still crafting.
Frequently wielding the 2000-page bill, Republicans pointed to its magnitude in denouncing the overall reform, characterizing its “crushing” tax increases and the health insurance mandate as a government health care takeover, and argued the legislation would increase the deficit, bankrupt the nation and cause job losses.
“I hope I don’t get a hernia” Indiana Republican Dan Burton joked while carrying the legislation to the podium.
Democrats hailed the bill as a rare chance to fix a broken health system, arguing that the United States should join the rest of the developed world in vastly extending health coverage. They added that it would end insurance discrimination against pre-existing conditions, and includes other reforms.
“Never again will you be denied coverage because you have a preexisting condition,” Hoyer from Maryland said. “Never again will your insurance run out.”
They defended against Republican charges that the act would increase the federal deficit, pointing to Congressional Budget Office reports that show the bill would reduce the federal deficit by more than $100 billion over the next ten years.
The abortion amendment, adopted by a 240 to 192 vote, was hammered out to gain the support of pro-life Democrats and would bar women who receive government health care subsidies from purchasing abortion coverage, while reinforcing current laws that block federal funding for abortions except in the case of rape, incest, and danger to the mother.
“The separation of church and state requires us as legislators to never cross this line,” California Democrat Barbara Lee said before the amendment vote.
But Minnesota Republican Michelle Bachmann expressed her support for the amendment. “It is the duty of government to preserve and protect human life,” she said.
Texas Republican Randy Weber, a cancer survivor, spoke against the larger bill in warning against socializing American health care. He credited the American system, which he called the best in the world, for his survival. “Thank goodness I’m not living in Canada or Europe,” he said.
Currently, 47 million Americans are uninsured, with 14,000 losing their coverage every day. Half of all bankruptcies are tied to medical emergencies and Americans pay more than twice the average per-person cost of other western nations.
“Despite being the richest country on earth, the United States ranks 45th in life expectancy,” Florida Democrat Alcee Hastings said.
“We are a great nation but our health care system doesn’t live up to it,” Virginia Democrat James Moran said during the floor debate.
Iowa Democrat Bruce Bradley threw in his support. “We were elected to come and change the direction of this country,” he said. “This bill will do for America what we should have done 100 years ago.”
The Democratic and Republican health bills are substantially different in scale. Democrats say their bill would raise taxes by more than $500 billion, whereas Republicans say their bill is tax-free.
“It’s a 2000-page roadmap to a government takeover of health care,” Missouri Republican Roy Blunt said of the House bill.
California Republican Devin Nunes denounced the House health bill in saying the United States already can’t support its existing programs, Medicare and Medicaid. “It’s like watching a broke drunk gambler double down and try to break even,” he said.
The Congressional Budget Office analysis show that the Republican plan would extend coverage to 3 million more Americans, but would maintain at 83 percent the proportion of nonelderly insured U.S. residents until 2019, as compared to the Democratic plan, which would grow this number to 96 percent in extending insurance to 36 million people on the same timeline.
While the budget office predicted that the Republican bill would reduce the federal deficit by $68 billion between 2010 and 2019, it said the bill put forward by the Democratic-led Congress would reduce the deficit by much more, at $104 billion.
Multiple Republicans said the bill would kill 5.5 million jobs and noted that Americans who don’t follow the health care mandate could be sentenced to 5 years in prison.
“I just don’t think its right to mandate that you have to have health insurance or you might go to jail,” Texas Republican Joe Barton said.
Democrats countered that the bill would generate jobs, but did not address the potential prison penalty.
Obama, in a final effort to garner support for the House bill, went to Capitol Hill Saturday and spoke to lawmakers.
With the House bill passed, many are questioning whether Senate Democrats will also be able to muster the necessary support, where the party controls 60 votes.
Sixty votes aren’t actually required to pass health care legislation in the Senate. The bill only needs 60 votes to overcome a potential Republican filibuster and reach the Senate floor, where it can be further debated.
Once it reaches the floor, however, the legislation only needs 51 votes to pass.
This means that Democrats who are opposed to the public option may decide to join their party in overpowering a Republican filibuster, allowing the bill to reach the floor. At that point, they can vote against the bill, but it will only need 51 votes to pass.