Congress approves historic health care legislation

Utah's GOP, Matheson oppose measure

By David Espo

Associated Press

and James Thalman

Deseret News

Published: Monday, March 22 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

President Barack Obama speaks following the vote in the House on health care reform.

Jim Watson,Afp/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Summoned to success by President Barack Obama, the Democratic-controlled Congress approved historic legislation Sunday night extending health care to tens of millions of uninsured Americans and cracking down on insurance company abuses, a climactic chapter in the century-long quest for near universal coverage.

Widely viewed as dead two months ago, the Senate-passed bill cleared the House on a 219-212 vote. Republicans were unanimous in opposition, joined by 34 dissident Democrats, including Utah's Rep. Jim Matheson.

Matheson has said the landmark changes are too much too soon and can't be reconciled financially without a lot of fiddling with the numbers and setting aside common sense.

The bill's opponents are already pronouncing today as a kind of second day that will live in infamy — the day the federal government took over health care.

"I am proud to say that I was one of the 212 members of Congress who opposed the Democrat's freedom-robbing health care bill," said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah. "Poor process produces a poor product and this trillion dollar tragedy is about as bad as they come. From the very start, this bill was on course to be one of the most historic examples of why we must restore a balance of power in Washington."

Obama watched the vote in the White House's Roosevelt Room with Vice President Joe Biden and dozens of aides. When the long sought 216th vote came in — the magic number needed for passage — the room burst into applause and an exultant president exchanged a high-five with his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.

"This is what change looks like," Obama said a few moments later in televised remarks that stirred memories of his 2008 campaign promise of "change we can believe in."

"We proved that we are still a people capable of doing big things," he said. "We proved that this government — a government of the people and by the people — still works for the people."

A second, smaller measure — making changes in the first — cleared the House shortly before midnight and was sent to the Senate, where Democratic leaders said they had the votes necessary to pass it quickly. That vote was 220-211.

Far beyond the political ramifications — a concern the president repeatedly insisted he paid no mind — were the sweeping changes the bill held in store for nearly every American, insured or not, as well as the insurance industry and health care providers such as hospitals, nursing homes and medical device manufacturers.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the legislation awaiting the president's approval would extend coverage to 32 million Americans who lack it, ban insurers from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions and cut deficits by an estimated $138 billion over a decade. If realized, the expansion of coverage would include 95 percent of all eligible individuals under age 65.

For the first time, most Americans would be required to purchase insurance, and face penalties if they refused. Much of the money in the bill would be devoted to subsidies to help families at incomes of up to $88,000 a year pay their premiums.

At least one Utah lawmaker swore an oath on the floor of the Utah House that he and every freedom- and liberty-loving American would prefer death over government getting its hands on yet another American standard of excellence worldwide — the health care system.

Other opponents of the measure say the 2,700-page monstrosity is too big to work. They regard it as a set of reforms that will slowly but surely destroy "the greatest health care system in the world" and take away people's freedoms.

Proponents said it has to be big enough to set the needed foundation for the myriad changes necessary for true reform.

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