WASHINGTON (CN) – Reporters and Democratic lawmakers crammed into the East Room of the White House Tuesday to watch President Obama sign the historic health bill into law, hollering and whistling as Obama tried to speak over them. One reporter joked, “So this is a Who concert, right?”
Addressing the rowdy crowd, Obama said, “We have now just enshrined the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care.”
He called the bill’s passage “improbable,” and added, “Today we are affirming that essential truth that we are not a nation that scales back its aspirations,” he said. “In this country, we shape our own destiny.”
When Obama and Vice President Joe Biden entered the room before the signing ceremony, senators and House members who voted for the bill greeted them with chants. “Fired up, ready to go,” they yelled.
Obama looked a little embarrassed from all the attention, and Biden, in joining the others in laying praise on Obama, said playfully, “You want me to stop because I’m embarrassing you.” But Biden, who’s known to talk, continued.
Sandwiched journalists watched from their positions along the wall. A White House employee said he had never seen the room so crowded.
The bill – the largest in decades – takes four years to implement. It will begin this year by requiring that new insurance plans offer free preventive care, by offering tax credits to small businesses that offer coverage for their employees, by baring insurance companies from denying coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions, and by blocking insurance companies from dropping people when they get sick.
Seniors will also get $250 this year to help pay for prescriptions and young adults will be able to stay on their parents’ insurance until they are 26-years-old.
Later, middle-class Americans will get subsidies to buy insurance and individuals and small businesses will be able join together to purchase insurance as a larger group to increase bargaining power.
Over the next 10 years, increased taxes will raise $940 billion and reduce the deficit by $130 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and the expansion of Medicaid and subsidies will help to insure 32 million more Americans.
Over the course of two decades, the budget office said it will reduce the deficit by $1.3 trillion.
The signed 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 House passage demonstrated a leap of faith by House members, who now will learn whether the senators will pass the package of changes that the House proposed.
The Senate began its consideration of the changes on Tuesday and Senate Democrats are planning to pass the package this week by means of reconciliation, which requires only support from a simple majority.
Obama used roughly a dozen pens to sign the bill so that he could give them away as keepsakes. “It’s going to take a really long time,” he said before starting. But after the waiting, his remarks seemed appropriate for the passage of a bill more than one-year in the making. “We are done,” he said.