Landmark Healthcare Bill Heads to Obama

WASHINGTON, March 22 (UPI) — A sweeping overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system headed to President Barack Obama’s desk to be signed into law Monday.

The House of Representatives passed the health reform bill 219-212 late Sunday over opposition from all Republicans and some Democrats.

The measure, which cleared the Senate in December, is projected to cut the federal deficit by $118 billion over the next decade and expand coverage to more than 30 million people, CNN reported.

A separate compromise package of fixes also passed the House, 220-211, and goes to the Senate for consideration. It also passed over unanimous GOP opposition.

“This is what change looks like,” Obama said after the votes were recorded. He called the passage of healthcare reform a “victory for the American people and it’s a victory for common sense.”

Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., called the bill “the Civil Rights Act” of the 21st century.

On the GOP side, House minority leader John A. Boehner of Ohio said in a New York Times report: “The American people are angry. This body moves forward against their will. Shame on us.”

Under the measure, most Americans would be required to have health coverage or pay a fine. Larger employers would be required to provide health insurance or risk penalties. Individual out-of-pocket expenses would be capped. Insurers would be barred from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions or gender. The so-called “doughnut hole” in out-of-pocket expenses seniors pay for prescription drugs would be closed.

In the Senate, Democrats will implement the parliamentary procedure called reconciliation to pass the package of fixes on a simple majority and avoid a Republican filibuster.

A group of senators and staffers were expected to meet Monday with the Senate parliamentarian, Alan Frumin, to determine if a tax on high-end insurance policies would affect the Social Security trust fund, and whether that would violate rules against altering Social Security through reconciliation, The Washington Post said.

If the bill passes muster on that point, 20 hours of debate will begin Tuesday and end either Wednesday night or Thursday morning, Democratic and Republican aides said. Vice President Joe Biden, as Senate president, and with Frumin’s advice, will rule on objections Republicans are expected to raise over provisions they argue violate requirements that all reconciliation legislation deal with federal revenue.

During debate, Republicans can offer an unlimited number of amendments, which are set aside for voting after debate ends, the Post said. Voting is expected to begin Thursday and last through Saturday at the latest.

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