US House approves health plan

Narrow vote of 220-215 provides victory for Obama; Republicans condemn reforms

A man holds a sign during a rally against the health care overhaul bill on Capitol Hill in Washington on Saturday. AP

After a daylong clash with Republicans over what has been a democratic goal for decades, lawmakers voted 220 to 215 to approve a plan that would cost $1.1 trillion over 10 years. Democrats said the legislation would provide overdue relief to Americans struggling to buy or hold on to health insurance. “This is our moment to revolutionise health care in this country,” said Representative George Miller, Democrat of California and one of the chief architects of the bill. Democrats were forced to make major concessions on insurance coverage for abortions to attract the final votes to secure passage, a wrenching compromise for the numerous abortion-rights advocates in their ranks.

Floor debate

Many of them hope to make changes to the amendment during negotiations with the Senate, which will now become the main battleground in the health care fight as Democrats there ready their own bill for what is likely to be extensive floor debate. Democrats say the House measure — paid for through new fees and taxes, along with cuts in medicare — would extend coverage to 36 million people now without insurance while creating a government health insurance programme. It would end insurance company practices like not covering pre-existing conditions or dropping people when they become ill. Republicans condemned the vote and said they would oppose the measure as it proceeds on its legislative route.

“This government takeover has got a long way to go before it gets to the president’s desk, and I’ll continue to fight it tooth and nail at every turn,” said Representative Kevin Brady, Republican of Texas. “Health care is too important to get it wrong.”

On the House floor, Democrats exchanged high-fives and cheered wildly — and Republicans sat quietly — when the tally display showed the 218th and decisive vote, after the leadership spent countless hours in recent days wringing commitments out of House members.

“We did what we promised the American people we would do,” said Representative Steny H Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland and the majority leader, who also warned: “Much work remains.”

Personal appeal

The successful vote came on a day when Obama travelled to Capitol Hill to make a personal appeal for lawmakers to “answer the call of history” and support the bill.
Only one Republican, Representative Anh Cao of Louisiana, voted for the bill, and 39 Democrats opposed it. The House also defeated the Republicans’ more modest plan, whose authors said it was a more common-sense and fiscally responsible approach.
After the vote, Obama issued a statement praising the House and calling on the Senate to follow suit. “I am absolutely confident it will,” he said, “and I look forward to signing comprehensive health insurance reform into law by the end of the year.”

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said he would bring a bill to the floor as soon as possible.

Lawmakers credited Obama with converting a final few holdouts during his appearance at a meeting with Democrats just hours before the vote. Officials said Obama’s conversation with Representative Michael H Michaud, Democrat of Maine, was crucial in winning one final vote.

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