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House Democrats Pass Health Care Bill


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Linda Wertheimer, in for Steve Inskeep.

The 111th Congress last night managed to do what Congresses before it have tried and failed to do for nearly a century: Pass and send the president a bill to fundamentally remake the nation's health care system.

NPR's Julie Rovner has been there every step of the way, reporting the twists and turns of health care legislation. She filed this report.

Representative JOHN DINGELL (Democrat, Michigan): On this vote, the yeas are 219, the nays are 212. The motion to concur in the Senate amendment is adopted...

(Soundbite of gavel pounding)

Rep. DINGELL: ...without objection, the motion to reconsider is laid on the table.

(Soundbite of cheering, applause)

JULIE ROVNER: And with that, depending on whether you were listening to Democrats or Republicans, either the best or the worst bill of the last generation was formally approved. Just moments after the vote, President Obama made it clear which side he was on.

President BARACK OBAMA: If you have health insurance, this reform just gave you more control by reining in the worst excesses and abuses of the insurance industry with some of the toughest consumer protections this country has ever known, so that you are actually getting what you pay for.

If you don't have insurance, this reform gives you a chance to be a part of a big purchasing pool that will give you choice and competition and cheaper prices for insurance.

ROVNER: The House actually had to pass two bills last night: first, the bill the Senate passed in December, which now goes to President Obama for his signature. Then lawmakers passed a second bill to make compromised changes to that Senate bill. It now goes to the Senate, where it's been promised quick consideration - as quick, that is, as anything ever can be in the world's most famous debating society. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was convinced the Senate, under Majority Leader Harry Reid, would, in fact, pass the second bill promptly.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House): And I salute Senator Reid for his leadership in bringing Senate members together -the majority of the Senate - around this legislation.

ROVNER: Yesterday was not only a rare Sunday session for the House, it was one of the most raucous days anyone could remember. Competing demonstrators for and against the bill lined the driveway in front of the Capitol most of the day with bill opponents yelling at lawmakers as they walked past.

Darrel Bledsoe(ph), who only identified himself as being from Florida, said he was losing his voice after demonstrating against the bill for days.

Mr. DARREL BLEDSOE: If we pass this, I feel this is the end of the health care as we know it.

ROVNER: Inside the House chamber, many Republicans - including Devin Nunes of California - used rhetoric that sounded strikingly similar to that of the protestors outside.

Representative DEVIN NUNES (Republican, California): Say no to socialism. Say no to totalitarianism. Say no to this bill.

ROVNER: House leaders were confident most of the weekend that they had the votes to pass both bills, but they weren't absolutely, completely sure until they reached a deal late Sunday afternoon with a small group of anti-abortion Democrats led by Michigan's Bart Stupak.

Representative BART STUPAK (Democrat, Michigan): Today, the president has announced he will be signing an executive order. That executive order will be signed after the health care legislation to reinforce that principle, that belief that we all stood on: no public funding for abortion.

ROVNER: The promised executive order appeased at least eight members who'd been worried about the possibility of federal abortion funding, but abortion rights supporters, like Colorado's Diana DeGette, insists that it merely restates what the bill already did.

Representative DIANA DEGETTE (Democrat, Colorado): What the executive order does is it simply says the White House is going to follow the law.

ROVNER: Between all the scrambling for votes, though, the enormity of what was about to happen was starting to dawn, some lawmakers said. For House Whip James Clyburn, it came Saturday when he got a text message from his 15-year-old grandson wishing him luck. His grandson had been born prematurely and had three operations before he weighed 20 pounds.

Representative JAMES CLYBURN (Democrat, Colorado; House Majority Whip): It's personal with him, and I guess it was yesterday that I got a little emotional about it. Because you don't expect a 15-year-old to be watching this stuff, but he is.

ROVNER: And then there was 83-year-old Congressman John Dingell of Michigan, the longest-serving member of Congress. He's been working for national health insurance the entire 55 years he's served in the House - so did his father, who served in the seat before him. Did Dingell ever think he'd see this day?

Representative JOHN DINGELL (Democrat, Michigan) I wouldn't have stayed in Congress if I hadn't.

ROVNER: Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

WERTHEIMER: For more coverage of the health care bill, including its immediate effects and a preview of the Senate vote, visit There, you can also find a consumer's guide to health care overhaul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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