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Obama signs health care reform bill

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Obama signs health care reform bill, aims to promote it on the road

Washington (CNN) -- President Obama on Tuesday signed into law a sweeping health care reform bill, the nation's most substantial social legislation in four decades, achieving a top priority of his administration.
The jubilant signing ceremony capped a political victory for Obama that supporters hope could guarantee his place in history with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson as one of the most successful social reforming presidents.

While Republicans and social conservatives vow to try to undermine or even repeal the bill, Obama and Democratic leaders celebrated Tuesday's signing as historic progress for the nation.

"It's been easy at times to doubt our ability to do such a big thing, such a complicated thing, to wonder if there are limits to what we as a people can still achieve," Obama said.

"We are not a nation that scales back its aspirations," he continued. "We are not a nation that falls prey to doubt or mistrust. We don't fall prey to fear."

Rather, "we are a nation that does what is hard, what is necessary, what is right," Obama said.

In the end, he said, the bill shows that America believes in the "core principle" that "everybody should have some basic security when it comes to health care."

The crowd stood to cheer when Obama and Vice President Joe Biden entered the packed East Room of the White House, then chanted Obama's campaign slogan of "Fired up! Ready to go!" as Obama and Biden applauded and smiled.

Among those on hand for the signing ceremony was Vicki Kennedy, the widow of Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, who championed health care reform for decades before his death last year.

Also present were several people who wrote Obama in the past year about their personal woes over losing or being unable to get health insurance. Obama had told their stories when campaigning for the health care bill in recent months.

He also noted some private citizens attending Tuesday's ceremony, including 11-year-old Marcelas Owens of Washington state and Ryan Smith, a small-business owner from California, who supported the bill.

And he said, "I'm signing this reform bill into law on behalf of my mother, who argued with insurance companies even as she battled cancer in her final days."

Democratic senators and representatives filled the crowd, and all stood to cheer and applaud after Obama used 20 pens to sign the bill.

The new law narrowly passed the House of Representatives late Sunday night. It was approved by the Senate in December. In both votes, no Republicans supported the measure.

A separate compromise package of changes also was passed by the House on Sunday and still needs to be approved by the Senate. If the compromise measure also becomes law, it would raise the total cost of the health care bill to $940 billion.

The measure is projected to extend insurance coverage to roughly 32 million additional Americans, in part by expanding Medicaid assistance for the poor while creating an insurance exchange to increase competition. It also will require most Americans to have health insurance or pay a fine.

"You have turned the right of every American to have access to decent health care into reality for the first time in American history," Biden said in introducing Obama.

Democratic senators and representatives filled the crowd, and all stood to cheer and applaud after Obama used 20 pens to sign the bill.

The new law narrowly passed the House of Representatives late Sunday night. It was approved by the Senate in December. In both votes, no Republicans supported the measure.

A separate compromise package of changes also was passed by the House on Sunday and still needs to be approved by the Senate. If the compromise measure also becomes law, it would raise the total cost of the health care bill to $940 billion.

The measure is projected to extend insurance coverage to roughly 32 million additional Americans, in part by expanding Medicaid assistance for the poor while creating an insurance exchange to increase competition. It also will require most Americans to have health insurance or pay a fine.

"You have turned the right of every American to have access to decent health care into reality for the first time in American history," Biden said in introducing Obama.

iReport: Share your views on health care reform

Larger employers are required to provide coverage to employees or risk financial penalties, and the law bans lifetime coverage limits by insurers or denial of health insurance for pre-existing conditions.

Republicans complained the bill cost too much and was too ambitious, but Democrats responded that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the bill would cut the federal deficit by $143 billion in the first 10 years.

Obama will hit the road to sell the measure to a still-skeptical public, giving a speech Thursday in Iowa City, Iowa, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. Obama launched his grass-roots drive for health care reform in Iowa City in May 2007, according to Gibbs.

Passage of the bill was a huge boost for Obama. Aides said Monday that Obama exchanged handshakes, hugs and "high-fives" with staffers when the outcome of the House vote became apparent.

"I haven't seen the president so happy about anything other than his family since I've known him," said senior adviser David Axelrod, adding that Obama's jubilation Sunday night exceeded his election victory in November 2008. "He was excited that night, but not like last night."

Republicans promised to continue fighting the reforms, with 11 state attorneys general -- all Republican -- planning lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the bill's mandate for people to buy health insurance and requirements for states to comply with its provisions.

Senior Republicans in Congress warned that voters will judge Democrats harshly in November's midterm elections, with Sen. John McCain of Arizona saying the Democratic-passed bill killed any chance of bipartisan support on legislation for the rest of the year.

"There will be no cooperation for the rest of this year," McCain said in an interview with KFYI radio in Arizona. "They have poisoned the well in what they have done and how they have done it."

Gibbs, however, said the administration expects to win any lawsuits filed against the bill, and he challenged McCain and other Republicans to campaign for the November election against benefits of the health care bill such as tax credits for small businesses and an end to insurance company practices such as denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

House Democrats are expected to celebrate passage of the bill at a news conference with reform advocates Tuesday afternoon. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who spearheaded her husband's failed health reform effort in the 1990s, said earlier in the day that Obama's success was an example of the president's tenacity.

"If you ever doubt the resolve of President Obama to stay with a job, look at what we got done for the United States last night when it came to passing quality affordable health care for everyone," Clinton said during a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Observers warn, however, that the road ahead for health care reform in the Senate may be rocky. Democratic leaders are using a legislative maneuver called reconciliation, which will allow the compromise plan to clear the Senate with a simple majority of 51 votes. But according to Senate rules, members are still allowed to offer unlimited amendments and challenges.

In one of the first of many attempts Republicans say they will make to try to amend or kill the package, GOP aides went to Senate Parliamentarian Alan Frumin on Monday to argue that the compromise bill violates rules of the reconciliation process because of the way it affects Social Security. For that reason, GOP aides said they argued, the bill should not even be allowed to be debated.

However, Frumin, according to a senior Republican and a Democratic aide, informed both parties he disagreed with the GOP assessment, and would not block the bill from reaching the Senate floor.

"There's hope that [the vote] would be done within a short period of time, like a week or so," said Tim McBride, a health economist and associate dean of public health at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

"But the Senate is complicated and doesn't have the discipline that the House does."

Once the package hits the Senate floor, the chamber's rules stipulate that there must be 20 hours of debate. But that 20 hours may prove to be more of a suggestion than an indicator of what will happen, according to Cheryl Block, a law professor at Washington University's School of Law.

"It could get all messy and could go on forever if [Republicans] threw up amendment after amendment," Block said.

"Theoretically, it should only take 20 hours, but it will likely take longer because Republicans have things up their sleeve."

If any provision in the package of changes is rejected or changed, the entire package would then have to go back to the House for another vote.

Source: CNN

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