US House of Representatives votes to approve healthcare reform
The House voted 220 to 215 in favor of healthcare reform. But Saturday night’s vote also signals tough negotiations ahead in the next phases of the legislation.
After a vote that went down to the wire, House Democrats cheered a vast overhaul of the US healthcare system early Sunday morning. In a phone call to House leaders, President Obama called it “a great victory for the American people.”Skip to next paragraph
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The $1 trillion-plus measure could add some 36 million people to the ranks of the insured by expanding the scope of Medicaid, creating exchanges where individuals could shop for insurance, and including a public option – a government-run insurance plan that would compete with private insurers. The legislation would also ban insurance companies from refusing or dropping coverage on the basis of health status.
Under the terms of the bill, which passed 220 to 215, individuals would be required to purchase health insurance and employers to cover their workers, with penalties for noncompliance. Costs would be covered by a surtax on high-income Americans and by reducing costs, especially in Medicare.
But Saturday’s vote signals tough negotiations ahead in the next phases of the legislation, including a potential conference between House and Senate versions of the bill. The Senate has yet to take a full vote on health reform, but if it does pass legislation, that version is expected to differ widely from the House’s.
With one lone Republican vote Saturday, freshman Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao of Louisiana, House Democrats can expect little help from the minority. In the run-up to the vote, GOP whip Eric Cantor of Virginia predicted that Speaker Nancy Pelosi would “get no help from us in passing this gargantuan, trillion-dollar overhaul.”
In the Senate, only one Republican, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, voted for either of two committee bills now being merged by Democratic majority leader Harry Reid. But she has since backed off her support over objections to a proposed public option.
To carry the momentum forward, Democrats must close rifts in their own ranks. One point of contention: a fragile, 11th-hour agreement with some 40 social conservatives to exclude public funding of abortions. The amendment passed, 240 to 197, with 64 Democrats voting with Republicans on the measure.
The agreement, which would require women to secure a separate policy to cover abortion costs, riled many Democrats in the liberal and progressive wing of the caucus – and is not expected to pass in the Senate.
“No woman plans an unplanned pregnancy,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D) of Illinois during debate over the antiabortion amendment on the floor of the House. “This amendment is a disservice and an insult to millions of women in this country.”
The vote reopened what has been a major fault line in congressional politics. “This is one of the most significant pro-life votes since Roe v. Wade,” said Tony Perkins of the conservative Family Research Council, after the vote.