WASHINGTON – 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.
On the cusp of succeeding where numerous past congresses and administrations have failed, jubilant House Democrats voted 219-212 late Sunday to send legislation to President Barack Obama. Republicans were unanimous in opposition, joined by 34 dissident Democrats.
The Senate-passed bill was widely viewed as dead two months ago.
“This is what change looks like,” Obama said later in televised remarks that stirred memories of his 2008 campaign promise of “change we can believe in.”
“We proved that this government — a government of the people and by the people — still works for the people.”
Obama’s young presidency received a much needed boost from passage of the legislation, which would touch the lives of nearly every American. The battle for the future of the health insurance system — affecting one-sixth of the economy — galvanized Republicans and conservative activists looking ahead to November’s midterm elections.
However, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli announced early Monday that his office would move forward with a lawsuit alleging the federal government’s “unconstitutional overreach of its authority” as soon as Obama signs it into law.
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.