It was the 219 votes that would go down in history. With the sound of a gavel on Sunday, the House passed the Senate health care reform bill, taking the first concrete steps on what will continue to be a long and tumultuous journey toward leveling the playing field and giving all Americans access to health care.
A minimum of 216 votes was needed to pass, with the final vote coming in at 219 to 212. As expected, not a single Republican voted in favor of the legislation that will be come law upon the President’s signature.
The controversial Senate bill, with its special concessions to states whose senators played serious hardball, is not only unpopular with Republicans, but with many Democrats who favored the more aggressive House bill that included a public option. Nevertheless, passage was necessary in order for any kind of health care reform to move forward. The reconciliation “fix it” bill was authored in order to address the problems with the Senate bill.
A major turning point came Sunday afternoon prior to the vote, when holdout Bart Stupak (D-MI) held a press conference announcing that he would cast a yes vote. This came after the White House announced plans to sign an executive order reinforcing that there will be no public funding for abortion through the bill. Anti-abortion members of the House wasted no time in predicting an unprecedented increase in abortion.
Delays, procedural questions, and warnings of dire consequences in the coming elections filled the afternoon and early evening as the House moved closer to the historical vote.
According to the Washington Post, Republican representatives took time during the day to stir up the anti-reform crowd outside. Members of Congress themselves waved signs and led the crowd in chanting “kill the bill.” Makes you wonder just who is leading who.
Harking back to Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” aimed at President Obama’s State of the Union address, from the Republican side “Baby killer!” was yelled at Bart Stupak, the anti-choice Democrat. How’s that for decorum? Shortly thereafter, a motion to recommit failed.
The reconciliation “fix-it” bill passed by a vote of 220 to 211 and will go to the Senate for passage in the coming days.
This is not armageddon. Despite all the scare tactics and warnings of monsters under the bed, at the end of the day, this is really about providing access to health care for millions of Americans who have none. It won’t come immediately or easily, but this is an important first step toward that goal. Many of the provisions included in the legislation, like the individual mandate and the availability of insurance exchanges, will not come into play until 2014.
President Obama addressed the nation shortly before midnight, saying “I know this wasn’t an easy vote for a lot of people, but it was the right vote… tonight’s vote is not a victory for any one party, it is a victory for common sense.”
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