Mar 22, 2010 12:00 PM by Bea Karnes, News First 5
President Barack Obama capped a yearlong political drama Tuesday, signing into law a landmark health care reform bill that had been seen as impossible just two months ago.
The president said the law "will set into motion what a generation of Americans have fought for."
He said he was confident the Senate would make fixes to the legislation "swiftly."
The president praised those House members who had "taken their lumps" during the overhaul debate. Shouted one lawmaker in the audience to laughter, "Yes we did!"
Obama paid tribute to what he called the "historic leadership and uncommon courage" of the members of Congress who pushed ahead with the measure amid the often heated debate. He also hailed the new law, saying it helps lift a "decades-long drag" on the economy.
With Victoria Kennedy, widow of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy in the audience, Obama took note of the long battle to bring the health overhaul measure to his desk. "He was confident we would do the right thing," the president said of the longtime Democratic lawmaker.
"We are not a nation that does what's easy ... we are a nation that faces its challeges and faces its responsibilities."
Now, Obama must sell the law's merits to a wary American public.
House and Senate Democrats who backed the bill, as well as ordinary Americans whose health care struggles have touched Obama , oined him for the ceremony at the White House. Afterward, they headed to the Interior Department for an even larger celebration.
The White House did everything possible to make sure Obama's health care victory lap carried the day with no competition. A planned announcement of the administration's new drug control policy by Vice President Joe Biden was called off, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs declined to hold his regular daily briefing for reporters and all Obama's meetings were closed to coverage, including one with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The next act begins Thursday, when Obama visits Iowa City, Iowa, where he announced his health care plan as a presidential candidate in May 2007. There Obama plans to talk about how the new law will help lower health care costs for small businesses and families, selling the overhaul to Americans who are deeply divided over the plan.
Republicans united in opposition pledged to repeal Obama's redesign of the health care system, which they criticized as a costly government takeover affecting one-sixth of the U.S. economy. The Republicans lack the votes needed to repeal the measure, but the minority party plans to use the issue to try to regain control of Congress in the November elections.
Democrats argue that they have delivered on Obama's campaign pledge for change, revamping a system in which the spiraling costs have put health care and insurance out of the reach of many Americans.
After a rancorous debate, the House voted 219-212 late Sunday to send the 10-year, $938 billion bill to Obama. Not one Republican voted for the bill. Some Democrats also voted against it.
The measure, which the Senate passed in December, eventually will extend coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans, reduce federal budget deficits and ban such insurance company practices as denying coverage to people with existing medical problems.
The bill will bring near-universal coverage to a wealthy country in which tens of millions of people are uninsured. The plan's various provisions will be phased in through 2014, and it is expected to expand coverage to about 95 percent of eligible Americans, compared with 83 percent today.