Landmark healthcare bill heads to Obama

March 22, 2010 at 10:58 AM
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WASHINGTON, March 22 (UPI) -- A sweeping overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system headed to President Barack Obama's desk to be signed into law.

Obama is expected to sign the historic healthcare reform legislation Tuesday, two Democratic officials knowledgeable about the planning told CNN.

The bill passed the House of Representatives 219-212 Sunday night. It was approved by the Senate in December.

A separate package of fixes passed the House 220-211 must be approved by the Senate. Officials said the Senate cannot begin debate on the corrections until Obama signs the underlying bill into law.

The measure being readied for Obama's signature is projected to cut the federal deficit by $118 billion over the next decade and expand coverage to more than 30 million people, CNN reported.

"This is what change looks like," Obama said after the votes were recorded. He called the passage of healthcare reform a "victory for the American people and it's a victory for common sense."

Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., called the bill "the Civil Rights Act of the 21st century."

On the GOP side, House minority leader John A. Boehner of Ohio said in a New York Times report: "The American people are angry. This body moves forward against their will. Shame on us."

Under the measure, most Americans would be required to have health coverage or pay a fine. Larger employers would be required to provide health insurance or risk penalties. Individual out-of-pocket expenses would be capped. Insurers would be barred from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions or gender. The so-called "doughnut hole" in out-of-pocket expenses seniors pay for prescription drugs would be closed.

In the Senate, Democrats will implement a parliamentary procedure called reconciliation to pass the package of fixes on a simple majority and avoid a Republican filibuster.

A group of senators and staffers were expected to meet Monday with the Senate parliamentarian, Alan Frumin, to determine if a tax on high-end insurance policies would affect the Social Security trust fund, and whether that would violate rules against altering Social Security through reconciliation, The Washington Post said.

If the corrections bill passes muster on that point, 20 hours of debate will begin, Democratic and Republican aides said. Vice President Joe Biden, as Senate president, and with Frumin's advice, will rule on objections Republicans are expected to raise over provisions they argue violate requirements that all reconciliation legislation must deal with federal revenue.

During debate, Republicans can offer an unlimited number of amendments, which are set aside for voting after debate ends, the Post said.

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