Congress gave final approval on Sunday to legislation that would provide medical coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans and remake the nation’s health care system along the lines proposed by President Obama.
By a vote of 219 to 212, the House passed the bill after a day of tumultuous debate that echoed the epic struggle of the last year. The action sent the bill to President Obama, whose crusade for such legislation has been a hallmark of his presidency.
Democrats hailed the vote as historic, comparable to the establishment of Medicare and Social Security and a long overdue step forward in social justice. “This is the civil rights act of the 21st century,” said Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 Democrat in the House.
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, with Republicans unanimous in opposition.
Congressional officials said they expected Obama to sign the bill as early as Tuesday.
A second measure — making changes in the first — was lined up for passage later in the evening. That measure would go to the Senate, where Democratic leaders said they had the votes to pass it.
Crowds of protesters outside the Capitol shouted "just vote no" in a futile attempt to stop the historic vote taking place inside a House packed with lawmakers and ringed with spectators in the galleries above.
Across hours of debate, House Democrats predicted the central bill, costing $940 billion over a decade, would rank with other great social legislation of recent decades.
Delivering a hard-fought victory in President Barack Obama’s year-long pursuit of a national healthcare overhaul, a divided House tonight narrowly voted to approve a Senate-passed healthcare bill which both supporters and opponents call historic in its sweep.
The 219-212 vote will deliver to the president’s desk an initiative for which he has fought on Capitol Hill and campaigned across the country: A healthcare bill that he finally can sign.
This was the first step of a two-part drama unfolding in the House this evening, with another late vote expected soon on a package that reconciles differences between this Senate-passed and now House-approved bill and another measure which the House approved in November.
Together, the two bills would present the president with a long-sought triumph for the signature domestic agenda of his presidency, a bid to offer health insurance to an estimated 32 million Americans who are uninsured and improve the coverage of those with insurance.
The second measure, also expected to pass the House tonight, will have to go to the Senate, where leaders hope to approve it by a simple majority vote under a process of "budget reconciliation.” Any changes made in the Senate, however, will return that legislation to the House before the president can sign the second bill.
"I know this bill is complicated, but it’s also very simple,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) during the final debate. "Illness and infirmity are universal, but we are stronger against them together than we are alone…. In that shared strength is our nation’s strength.”
"Tonight, we will make history for our country and progress for the American people,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in the leadership’s closing argument. Crediting Obama for his "unwavering commitment to healthcare for all Americans,” the speaker said "this legislation… if I had one word to describe it tonight, it would be opportunity.”