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Obama's Democrats seal vote on health care

Published:Monday | March 22, 2010 | 12:00 AM


United States President Barack Obama and House Democratic leaders struck a last-minute deal Sunday with abortion foes to secure the final few votes needed to remake America's health-care system, writing a climactic chapter in a century-old quest for near universal coverage.

The House argued its way through a thicket of Republican objections towards an evening vote on the bill to 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 US$138 billion over a decade.

Last night's final vote in the House was 219-212. Republicans were unanimously opposed. The bill now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The action late Sunday capped a yearlong quest by Obama and Democrats to overhaul the system and reshape a sixth of the economy.

In the first of three showdown votes Sunday, a 'rule' to establish guidelines for the ensuing health-care debate was approved by a 224-206 margin. That indicated the Democratic leadership had the votes for later approving the Senate-passed bill and then the fix-it bill. Its passage will set up a final showdown in the Senate in the days ahead, where Majority Leader Harry Reid says at least 50 votes are in hand for its final approval under a fast-track procedure known as reconciliation.

Obama's legacy

The stakes could not have been higher for Obama's presidency. Obama has made health-care reform the defining issue of his first year in office. Republicans hoped that by blocking the legislation, they would be able to thwart Obama's ambitious domestic agenda, including immigration reform and climate-change legislation.

While national health care has long been a goal of presidents stretching back decades, it has proved elusive, in part because self-reliance and suspicion of a strong central government remain strong in the US.

A shouting band of protesters outside the Capitol dramatised their opposition, and one man stood up in the House visitor's gallery shouting, "Kill the bill!" before he was ushered out - evidence of the passions the yearlong debate over health care has stirred.

Obama, on the verge of securing one of the most significant legislative triumphs in decades, planned to make a statement to the nation Sunday night after the House took its final vote on the health-care legislation.

Republicans opposed the measure as a takeover of government health care that would cut Medicare for the elderly and raise taxes by nearly US$1 trillion combined.