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Obama signs historic $938 billion health overhaul

By Jennifer Loven

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, March 24 2010 12:18 a.m. MDT

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. is hugged by President Barack Obama in the East Room of the White House in Washington Tuesday after he signed the health care bill.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Claiming a historic triumph that could define his presidency, a jubilant Barack Obama signed a massive, nearly $1 trillion health care overhaul on Tuesday that will for the first time cement insurance coverage as the right of every U.S. citizen and begin to reshape the way virtually all Americans receive and pay for treatment.

After more than a year of hyperpartisan struggle — and numerous near-death moments for the measure — Obama declared "a new season in America" as he sealed a victory denied to a line of presidents stretching back more than half a century. Democratic lawmakers cheered him on, giving the White House signing ceremony a rally-like atmosphere as they shouted and snapped photos with pocket cameras or cell phones.

But not everyone was cheering.

Attorneys general from Utah and 12 other states acted on their opposition immediately, filing suit to stop the overhaul just minutes after the bill signing.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum took the lead in the lawsuit, joined by colleagues from Utah, South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Alabama, South Dakota, Louisiana, Idaho, Washington and Colorado. Other GOP attorneys general may join the lawsuit later or sue separately.

All the attorneys general are Republican except James "Buddy" Caldwell of Louisiana, a Democrat, who said he signed on because Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal asked him to and he felt the effort had merit.

The lawsuit claims the health care bill violates the 10th Amendment, which says the federal government has no authority beyond the powers granted to it under the Constitution, by forcing the states to carry out its provisions but not reimbursing them for the costs.

Robert Sedler, a constitutional law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, said the effort isn't going anywhere. "This is pure, pure political posturing and they have to know it," he said.

Democrats pushed the bill through Congress without GOP support, and the Republicans said Tuesday that those Democratic lawmakers would pay dearly in November's elections. Opinion polls show the public remains skeptical, too, and Obama will fly to Iowa on Thursday for the first of a number of appearances that will be more like a continuing sales job than a victory lap.

Aside from the huge, real-life changes in store for many Americans, the White House hopes the victory — even as a companion Senate "fix-it" bill moves through the Senate — will revitalize an Obama presidency that has been all but preoccupied with health care for his first year and two months in office. Vice President Joe Biden was caught whispering a profanity as he exclaimed to the president what a big deal it was.

Indeed, the reshaping of one-sixth of the U.S. economy, to be phased in over several years, ranks among the biggest changes ever devised by Washington. That was a main complaint from Republicans who characterize the measure as a costly, wrongheaded government power grab. Obama and the Democrats portray it as literally a lifesaver for countless Americans.

The core of the massive law is the extension of health care coverage to 32 million who now lack it, a goal to be achieved through a complex cocktail of new mandates for individuals and employers, subsidies for people who can't afford to buy coverage on their own, consumer-friendly rules clamped on insurers, tax breaks, and marketplaces to shop for health plans.

The law's most far-reaching changes don't kick until 2014, including a requirement that most Americans carry health insurance — whether through an employer, a government program or their own purchase — or pay a fine. To make that a reality, tax credits to help cover the cost of premiums will start flowing to middle-class families and Medicaid will be expanded to cover more low-income people.

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